When discussing the emotions of managing a club bottom of the Premier League, Mick McCarthy replied that he disliked the sympathy that came with it, a combination he described as "shit and caramel".
Since coming to Merseyside, Roy Hodgson has endured plenty of the former and been offered precious little of the latter.
There was little sweetness in the air around Anfield last night. The chants of "Hodgson for England" rang out from the Kop, mingling in with the more ominous and menacingly rhythmic sound of "Dalglish".
This was the final Premier League game of 2010, for which, let it be remembered, that Hodgson was voted manager of the year. Long before its end, he was cutting a desperately isolated figure on the touchline. Two of his three substitutions appeared to inflame Anfield: Ryan Babel was jeered on while Paul Konchesky was almost laughed off.
Liverpool had been outplayed by a club that before last night had won once at Anfield in 60 years. Hodgson thought it a worse performance than Liverpool's two other humiliations here this season: the defeats by Northampton and Blackpool. Sylvain Marveaux, the Rennes winger who is expected to become the first of Hodgson's signings in the January transfer window, was in the directors' box, although on this evidence, he may be tempted to change his mind.
Hodgson said he was trying to think of a different adjective to "disappointing". In the streets that hem in the old stadium, he would have been offered plenty of alternatives. Wolverhampton Wanderers' victory may have been unexpected but it was thoroughly deserved and the goal that sealed it had been coming.
Shortly before Stephen Ward scored his first Premier League goal, Pepe Reina had , for reasons best known to himself, passed straight to Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Whatever Hodgson's critics may say, he cannot be held responsible for this kind of ineptitude. What followed was far worse. Sotirios Kyrgiakos could only clear the ball as far as Ebanks-Blake and the striker slid his pass through to Ward, who in turn slid his shot through Reina's legs. For McCarthy this was a kind of justice 12 months late — Ward had been sent off here on Boxing Day last year with the Wolves manager adding pithily that ‚ÄúPepe Reina had run 70 yards to make sure he was dismissed.‚Äù
At Old Trafford earlier in the season, Wolves had been denied a point in the final minute, which saw McCarthy kick a nearby water bottle a sight harder than Babel kicked anything last night. There was little danger of a repetition. Martin Skrtel did put the ball into the net beneath the Kop, but the fact that possibly five Liverpool players were offside summed up the night.
"Most people's perception of Wolves would be, 'They are going down, they are bottom of the league and just been beaten at home by Wigan'," said McCarthy. "They would think we would come here, sit back, get our arses slapped and our bellies tickled and go home with nothing. But we decided we were not having that. We would come here and have a real go, and fortune favoured the brave."
A night laced with booing began with applause. They had put their hands together in memory of Avi Cohen and Bill Jones, men from different Liverpool generations – the ones that won the league titles in 1980 and 1947 respectively, to be exact – and both played in better teams than this one. For their previous game at Anfield Liverpool had given away free tickets to kids and entertained them with a stultifying Europa League contest with Utrecht in a game as devoid of meaning as it was shots at goal. This one was full price. Wolves are not exactly fearsome opponents in this corner of Merseyside.
Their one victory in six decades at Anfield had come, perversely, in 1984, the year Liverpool won a treble and Wolves finished last. They did not play like a bottom-of-the-table team. Wolves were aggressive and inventive when going forward, adjectives that could not be used about the home team, captained by Steven Gerrard for the first time since the 2-0 defeat at Stoke in mid-November. It is tempting to see Gerrard as a footballing Ricky Ponting, a great player who finds his career turning at a sporting institution teetering towards deep decline. He tried manfully but the only clear opening came from a delightful crossfield ball from Fernando Torres, played into Raul Meireles' path by George Elokobi. It was their only real chance and to borrow one of McCarthy's words, the shot contained far too much caramel.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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