Tuesday, 2 November 2010
It’s time to stop the Hodgson-hate: Get behind Roy’s improving team
The enthusiasm that I expected to see following successive wins for Liverpool has not materialised, as many still doubt Hodgson’s credentials. If Kenny Dalglish was the manager and an identical scenario had unfolded I wonder if the fans would feel the same? An average performance that results in 3 points is still a success, no?
Regardless of what the naysayers want, Roy Hodgson remains Liverpool manager and although some are struggling to adapt to the concept, he ultimately wants the same thing as the supporters: victories for Liverpool.
Rather than hoping for Hodgson’s failure, it would be nice to see every Liverpool fan unite behind the current regime and enjoy the victories when they come.
Bear with me: If Chelsea or Manchester United had recorded a 1-0 victory against Bolton on Sunday then the reaction would have been totally different from the one which we have witnessed. Fans and media alike would have proclaimed that this was the sign of championship contenders and rolled out the clichés about the best teams still winning even when playing poorly.
Due to Hodgson’s previously poor league record and misjudged media comments, what should be a positive for Liverpool (and would be for other clubs) is merely being fashioned into another stick with which to beat the beleaguered Liverpool manager.
There have been excellent improvements in Liverpool’s defence, yet no one seems to be sending any credit Hodgson’s way.
When visiting the Reebok Stadium, the home side’s message is simple. ‘We will test you physically all over the pitch and if you can match us for 90 minutes, then you’ve earned your points’. Away sides don’t get freebies when visiting Bolton Wanderers and as such, there are genuine positives to take from Sunday’s victory. Would Liverpool have won this fixture a fortnight ago? I’m not so sure.
To gain anything from such a match you need your centre half pairing to be on top of their game. Kyrgiakos and Skrtel demonstrated excellent focus throughout the match to keep Bolton’s physical front pair from inflicting serious damage.
Bolton were limited to two clear headed chances and although Reina’s goal led a charmed life as Davies’ header flashed wide, Liverpool earned the right to emerge with a clean sheet. They deserve credit for that.
The most impressive aspect of the defensive pair’s performance symbolised a willingness to learn from mistakes and adapt their strategy throughout the match. As the game progressed, the understanding grew and they were able to develop an efficient system to reduce Davies’ threat.
More often that not, it was Kyrgiakos who would challenge the England international in the air. His ‘job description’ was clear. Even if he was unable to win the header, he would make sure that Davies couldn’t direct his header as he wished. (Whilst being careful not to give away cheap free kicks.) Davies didn’t have a free header throughout the game and this limited Bolton’s creativity in the final third.
Skrtel’s support play was intelligent. As the Greek challenged Davies, Skrtel dropped deep to win the second ball and prevent Bolton from gaining an attacking platform. This is a simple defensive concept but it’s easier said than done. And if it had been implemented poorly Bolton’s direct style would’ve posed a much greater threat. The defence was well drilled.
Another big positive to take from the game was Lucas Leiva’s contribution.
Lucas personified the team’s performance, he was far from spectacular but emerged from the game with credit. Although the forward runs he produces for Brazil were non-existent, his role is different at club level and he did his job well. Have you noticed that everything that he struggled with for so long appears to slowly be improving?
Critics were quick to state that he would never handle the pace and physicality of the Premier League and they said his passing ability was limited. It has taken a while but Lucas is progressing. He was tidy in possession and disciplined in his defensive duties – Lucas is the best player Liverpool have for that role. (Whilst Poulsen has a wealth of experience, Lucas’ career seems to be moving forwards as the Dane’s fades away.) Everybody who has used Lucas as a scapegoat for so long may need to find a new target before long.
Six points from 2 games indicates an improvement for Hodgson’s Liverpool. There is no suggestion that Hodgson has turned Liverpool into a strong team or that all is well, but that is definite, factual, progress.
With that in mind, I find it hard to relate to the level of disappointment amongst many Liverpool fans online. The contrast between the Liverpool fans that were in the Reebok Stadium and those who have posted their opinions across the internet is worth noting. The away support on Sunday was magnificent, remaining united behind the team until the three points were secure.
If some of us continue to allow our disillusionment with the manager to eclipse our enjoyment of the team’s success then Roy Hodgson’s reign is going to be a deeply frustrating one for all involved. If a football fan can’t see the positives in their side winning a game of football then something has gone seriously wrong.
There is clearly a long way for this Liverpool team to go and if this is the peak of Hodgson’s progress then clearly, it is not good enough. I accept that. But there are signs of progress and while they continue we should all look to get behind the team and manager.