Liverpool 2 Cardiff 1
Carling Cup 4th Round, October 31st 2007
2-1, and you still don't sing...
We came, we saw, we outsang the Kop - what more do you want? Trite cliches about battling Bluebirds' performances do not begin to do justice to a titanic effort from the team, and an equally heroic performance from the 5,600 fans in the Anfield Road Lower, most of whom were speaking in a husky whisper the morning after as they troughed out on English breakfasts all over Liverpool / rubbed the sleep from their eyes in S.Wales.
Anyone with any real passion about the game of football could not fail to be excited about a Cup tie at Anfield, but we came not in supplication and adoration, but to have a good time and support the boys in the way that only Cardiff can. Worth dwelling for a few more moments on the sheer volume of the racket the Cardiff fans made as soon as they had gathered in the stadium.
The singing was incessant, indescribably loud and filled this old Bluebird's heart with pride. The old favourites got a tremendous airing - "You are my Cardiff, Greatest Team etc etc", it was almost universally pro-Cardiff as opposed to anti-English/Scouse and there was a welcome lack of anything remotely disrespectful or unpleasant towards our opponents.
Apart from about 90 seconds of Gerry and the Pacemakers' tannoy-assisted "You'll Never Walk Alone", which City fans gamely tried to drown out with Men of Harlech, the only noise in town was the constant chanting from Cardiff fans. I hope it sounded as good on the radio/TV as it did at the ground, because on the night it was spine-tinglingly awesome.
On the thorny question of the "Enemy Within" at Anfield, it was surely a dumb decision for so many Cardiff fans to buy tickets in the "home" ends. This inevitably led to flashpoints and could have resulted in ugly confrontations which would no doubt have been seized upon by a slavering media. After the City fans in the Anfield Rd End urged Anfield to "do the ayatollah", the response from the Bluebirds dotted about the stadium was Pavlovian, from the wry spectacle of a few Cardiff lads winking and doing some covert ayatollahing to the ill-advised bare-chested "come and have a go" attitude of someone at the back of the Main Stand.
Before the match outside the ground, both stewards and police were a tad pushy, with no particular reason - Cardiff fans were noisy but well-behaved. The presence of Cardiff City stewards helped but they were clearly well down the pecking order in determining the treatment of the fans after Merseyside Police and LFC stewards. (Incidentally after all the hype and hoopla it looked like no cards were checked at the turnstiles by anyone).
The atmosphere in and around the city had been good, we met nothing but warm hospitality all day, often the case when the "giants" welcome the minnows into their lair. The city was awash with Bluebirds, taking in the sights, supping a revitalising shandy and generally getting in the mood for the night. After an interesting journey involving cancelled trains, an enjoyable al fresco pinta in Birmingham, drunken squaddies and a bumpy cab ride through the mind-boggling traffic chaos of a frantically redeveloping city centre, our party checked in to an Albert Dock hotel, checked out the excellent Beatles Story Museum, grabbed a bite and a beer at the Blue Bar and Grill (well where else?), and then joined the gridlocked traffic to Anfield.
The Fowler factor ensured that this would be a near sell-out. Took our seats in the Anfield Road End, or at least stood in front of the seats, (just as well given the frugal legroom), slurped in the atmosphere of a proper Premiership ground - impressive; and then concentrated on the singing as the full force of travelling Bluebirds ramped up the decibels to lung-bursting levels. Most fans were inside the stadium in good time for kick-off, no last-minute rush, no dangerous clogging of aisles and stairwells. All set for the game of the season so far.
The teams came on to a huge roar, the noise from the Cardiff end eclipsing the Kop as it did most of the night. Clear from Liverpool's team selection that this was a game that they needed / wanted to win, with Crouch, Gerrard, Carragher and Babel the notable names on the teamsheet, with several stellar talents on the bench. No surprises on the blue front, Jones' current favourite starting 11, with Oakes replacing cup-tied Schmeichel, back four of McNaughton, Purse, Johnson and Capaldi; midfield quartet of Parry, McPhail, Rae and Ledley, and the Grandads up front.
City started well, far from overawed, and enjoyed a good spell of pressure. First real chance fell to Fowler who very nearly stunned the Kop with a smart free kick which was neatly diverted by newbie goalkeeper Itandje. Liverpool soon gained a grip on the game and enjoyed lengthy spells of possession, with Stevie G the all-action fulcrum through which most of their best football flowed. City's defence stood resolute, Purse in particular was having a blinder and very early on picked up Peter Crouch and placed him gingerly in his pocket. McNaughton too thrived in the big match atmos, and was everywhere, breaking up attacks, bursting forward when the opportunities arose. Parry had a good headed attempt on goal, which was the next closest the Blues came to scoring.
Cardiff fans were delighted to see the teams go in at half time all square, with the statisticians finding it too close to call. The tempo and intensity of the game cranked up a notch in the second 45, Liverpool fearing the wearying prospect of extra time, and Cardiff sensing that there was a game to be won here. Both Ledley and Parry became more and more involved, probing at the full backs with some penetrating runs which elicited some success. HB and Fowler worked hard, as we report week in week out, but were getting little out of the Liverpool defence.
Liverpool's opener was something special, Frenchman Nabil El Zhar cutting in from the left and launching an unstoppable shot into the far corner on 48 minutes, which Michael Oakes made a valiant but fruitless effort to save. Cue "Anfield roar" as the pampered supporters remembered briefly how to make a noise. The response from the Bluebirds' fans was immediate, as they trumped the opposition with wave upon wave of Cardiff chants. The team responded and fought back into the game with aggression and style, passing the ball about with vim and conviction.
We sensed that an equaliser was on the cards, and Dazzer did not disappoint. He capped a marvellous man of the match performance with a fantastic header from Parry's pinpoint free kick, sending the nutty Bluebirds fans into an altered states euphoria. People were still jumping up and down, phoning / texting home when Liverpool cruelly hit back with a dazzling counter attack, Benayoun combining clinically with Stevie G to outwit a flat-footed defence, with Gerrard sending a powerful shot past Oakes. This time the roar from the Reds WAS loud, and brought back hitherto banished memories from the San Siro in 2003.
Cardiff worked hard to get back into the match and were able to mount a smattering of decent if non-lethal attacks. Fowler had a half-chance in the box, and Joe Ledley went closest with a snap shot which was turned away for a corner by the keeper. Parry made some headway ain the second half and gave the full back Aurelio a bit of a runaround. Subs failed to influence the latter course of the game, Thompson replacing the ineffective HB, Gunter McNaughton and Whittingham McPhail. The Bluebirds stretched every proverbial sinew but were unable to make the breakthrough to take the tie into extra time, Liverpool guarding their lead jealously and threatening to extend it as they exploited the space in defence.
A huge ovation for the players as the final whistle blew, with every one of them saluting the fans before trooping off dejectedly. Fowler soaked up his last Anfield farewell, swapped shirts with today's Kop Icon Gerrard and then did one more Ayatollah for the road. Cardiff fans went on their way with a moderate spring in their step having witnessed a performance of passion, aggression and no little skill. Let's not get too excited about a defeat to a clearly under-strength Liverpool team, but there was plenty there to believe that this season is far from being washed up. If the players can raise their game against the humble duffers of the Championship, as they did tonight against a class team in a rammed-to-the-rafters Anfield, then we can still blow a hole in this mediocre division and rise towards the top.
Fowler's return to Anfield was the sideshow tonight, the main attraction was the form and future of CCFC, but it was interesting to listen to the opinion of dedicated Reds (with and without Liverpool accents), who viewed his Second Coming as a sad postscript to a glittering career. The Liverpool Daily Post was also scathing about the threat he offered tonight - intimating that the Liverpool centre back Jack Hobbs would have had a scarier night coping with the Helloween trick or treaters at home. Still too early to write the fella off, but at the moment he looks a washed-up indulgence who is unlikely to last the season, never mind two. Thompson's done enough in the past few games to win his place back, and should (by rights) start on Tuesday.
Back to the Albert Dock after the game via the city centre, with the young people of Liverpool doing everything in their power to maintain Liverpool's hold on the title of Binge Drinking Capital of the UK. The City of Culture can wait till next year. We sidestepped the main in the gorilla suit and joined the hordes of awayday Reds and Bluebirds for a nightcap at the hotel.
Anecdotal reports and the lack of any lurid press coverage suggest that this trip was the most successful high profile away game for years, with no reports of arrests or disorder, fans mingling happily in pubs before and after the game. Also good to see Cardiff fans paying tribute at the Hillsborough memorial, leaving flowers, wreaths, scarves and flags. Well done to all those who went, thumbs-up to the team and management for a fine performance and let's hope that it acts as a catalyst for a resounding pasting of under-pressure Palace in Tuesday's juicy six-pointer and a long-awaited stepping stone up the table.
Paul Davies © 2007.
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