Roy Hodgson lived painfully in the shadow of Kenny Dalglish at Anfield this season until, after six months of stress and near-humiliation, he was relieved of his duties in January.
Dalglish – "It was not easy with 'an icon' in the background," Hodgson said on Friday – may be only the caretaker manager at Liverpool. Fenway Sports Group, the club's owner, has yet to decide whether iconic status will translate into a meaningful challenge in the Premier League next season. On the latest evidence, though, perhaps even the Scot may have second thoughts.
Liverpool had edged control for much of a rousing game. They took the lead in the 50th minute when Martin Skrtel, the central defender, powered in a fearsome header from a Raul Meireles corner and they should have gone on to strengthen their case for a Europa League place. But just when Dalglish wanted strength and resilience, just when a bit of nous was required, Liverpool collapsed.
It was self-inflicted, too, with West Brom scoring twice from penalties. First, Sotirios Kyrgiakos clumsily felled Peter Odemwingie in the area; then, with two minutes remaining, José Reina also brought down Odemwingie. The referee Martin Atkinson, on the advice of an assistant, again pointed to the spot. And again, Chris Brunt hammered in the spot-kick, Reina having little chance with either powerful strike.
Not that Dalglish agreed with Atkinson's decisions. Odemwingie fell too easily for the first award, according to Dalglish, who then questioned why the assistant had got involved for the second. "When does the linesman take over responsibility from the ref?" he said. "It's important that we are told this. We can't dictate referee's decisions, we can only dictate our own." So much for managers being asked to show more respect to referees.
Dalglish did admit to having plenty of "food for thought", not least after Steven Gerrard broke down in training on Friday with a recurring groin problem. "He tried to turn and felt a sharp pain," Dalglish said. "It's in the same area but not the same injury."
The defenders Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger departed early with injuries and Dalglish may look closely at the temperament of Andy Carroll. The England striker tangled with Steven Reid, Abdoulaye Méïté and Jonas Olsson, and earned two warnings from Atkinson and a booking for a late challenge on Reid. When will he learn the difference between harmless boisterousness and blatant stupidity?
West Brom did need a superb save from Scott Carson and a headed goalline clearance from Nicky Shorey to survive but just about deserved their good fortune, which took them up four places in the table to 12th. Seemingly light years away from the relegation threat, but in reality they are still in the mix. Perhaps a clean sheet next time out – what would be a first in 30 league matches – may help.
Still, Hodgson refused to gloat. His stay at Anfield may have turned into a horror show but true to the man he does not bear grudges. "No, I gain no extra pleasure from this win," he said. "I made a lot of friends at Liverpool and I have a lot respect for them. My great pleasure is taken from beating Liverpool FC because West Bromwich don't often do that."
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT
STEVEN WILTON, WBA.VitalFootball.co.uk This game was a slow starter. Neither team really got any sort of advantage in the first half and Andy Carroll spent it falling over and arguing with players. He wasn't effective. But after that dull opening period the game came to life. This was our first win in 10 games against Liverpool and I've got to give special mention to our central defence, for keeping Suárez and Carroll quiet. Hodgson knows how to organise a team and we are now more solid – Méité wasn't getting a kick under Di Matteo. Brunt stayed cool to finish his two penalties while Mulumbu was the outstanding player for me again.
The fan's player ratings Carson 8; Reid 7, Méïté 8, Olsson 9, Shorey 8; Brunt 7, Scharner 7, Mulumbu 9, Odemwingie 9; Thomas 5 (Jara 90 n/a), Cox 6 (Fortuné 74 7)
STEPHANIE JONES, Observer reader The game was pretty even most of the time. We scored from the corner, which was great, but then they got the two penalties. Suárez just missed a chance near the end. In terms of star performers Reina made some good saves and when Suárez gets the ball you always think he is going to do something good. Carroll is a fine player both in the air and on the ground but got a bad time against Méïté and Olsson, who battered him about a bit. We lost Agger and Johnson in the first quarter of the game and that affected our performance although we still could have got a victory.
The fan's player ratings Reina 8; Carragher 6, Skrtel 7, Agger 7 (Wilson 24 6), Johnson n/a (Kyrgiakos 8 5); Kuyt 6 (Cole 87 n/a), Lucas 7, Spearing 6; Meireles 7; Suárez 7, Carroll 7
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