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Thespians 1 LFC 1 – Lithium on the Big Screen

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I'd like to know how Paul Tomkins kept his articles so small and concise:

Thespians 1 LFC 1 – Lithium on the Big Screen

The Galatasaray game fizzed and spitted like lithium in a glass and, although there could be no substitute for being there, plenty of it came across on the big screen.  While Gala fans gave an abject lesson in supporting your team for 90 minutes, their players gave a nauseous lesson in how to con a dismal referee.  But the action was superb.  There were golden chances at both ends, there was neat passing that belied a pitch with more bobbles than Luke Chadwick’s face and there were two well taken goals.  But ultimately Liverpool came away with a draw rather than the win that it could/should have been.  We now go to the Neu Camp needing a result, some night that’s going to be.

I’m tempted to name and shame the pub that chose to show The Corporation vs Nantes instead of Gala vs Liverpool, but then I should thank them really.  You see, I ended up in a converted cinema with 2-300 other reds and the atmosphere was just a tad better, almost terrace like in fact.  The big screen was big, but it still wasn’t going to show “off the ball” incidents or half the running.  Still, as second bests go, it wasn’t bad.  In fact I’d recommend it.

There was an early taster of what we were all missing.  The “If you think this is hell, then you should see the Grafton on a Friday night” banner was sheer class.  Not that I’d know what the Grafton was like at all. Oh no. That was just someone that looked like me.  The Ali S. stadium didn’t look impressive before the game but it did now.  39,000 Energiser bunny fans was that??  Nice, and beer at 50p a pint?  It must have been awesome.

Liverpool lined up with the Kirkland-Hyypia-Henchoz-Hamman diamond flanked by Carra and Abel.  Murphy in the middle with Smicer and Riise out wide.  Heskey and Owen added a familiar strike force to a predictable line up.  Few people expected Litmanen or Baros to feature in the starting line up.  Perhaps they’d turn up later?  Gala meanwhile were hit by injury and suspension (no, really?) with up to seven first teamers out of action.  I would name them but fear the actors union would want royalties or something.

Game on then and it was fast and furious from the off.  Gala were defending deep, clearly respecting the pace of Own and Heskey.  This spread the play and opened up sufficient space for an end to end basketball style early period.  There were surely going to be goals and as Murphy went charging into the box, only for Mondragon to beat him to it, I thought this could be our night.  Not to be outdone, Kirkland replied with a good save to deny Arif’s effort (damn, how much is that we owe?).

The best first half chance was of course Owen’s flick into Smicer’s path only for Smicer to stub it along the floor and Mondragon to save.  It looked to me as though he’d tried the early shot, as you would if you were clean through in a 5-a-side game.  I’m sure Vladi is a fine 5-a-side player but this chance needed a flick over the keeper.  It looked like a bad miss, but at least we were creating things.

Then came Carra’s nightmare hoof (and it was a hoof) of a clearance.  Chadwick jokes aside, this pitch needed help.  So when the ball came across to Jamie it wanted a safe clearance, not a 3 wood over the half way line.  The resulting spooned effort led Kirkland to make a brave challenge and then Sami to perform a heroic clearance, only to be followed by another fine Kirkland save.  Heart stopping stuff and some raised eyebrows around me as pints were returned to.

Three more chances took us into half time.  Murphy fired down Mondragon’s throat.  the Colombian then beat Emile “storming through like a rampaging wildebeest” to a through ball and then Owen created his own opening.  Somehow Mikey failed to get his right peg round the ball and the expected curl didn’t happen - the shot skimmed a foot wide.  This was promising stuff.  The Turks were looking uncomfortable at set pieces and resorting to Martin Keown tactics to restrain Owen, so there was plenty of hope for the second half.

Owen managed to fire an early second half chance into the ‘keeper, his left foot giving critics room for manoeuvre once again.  Minutes later Smicer put Riise in on goal only for a firm shot to be hit straight at “that man” again.  Every expression around the pub seemed to say the same thing.  This was developing that recent Anfield feeling once again.  Surely we have to take these chances?, especially in Europe and especially away from Anfield.

So it was Gala who opened the scoring.  Nicolescu had threatened earlier with a header straight at Kirkland.  This time from a similar position, he’d stolen infront of Sami and directed a firm header just inside the post.  Chris could do nothing… and the pub was silenced.  For a second that is… before the support continued.  Maybe we can arrange for speakers to be set up to be heard at away ga…. OK, daft idea but you know what I mean.

Almost immediately we got the chance to respond, in that crucial psychological moment that Jocky always tells us about after a team has scored.  Riise got a fine ball into the centre from the left and there was Smicer.  Beer was spilt in anticipation and then… and then Vladi managed to miss a gaping net when it was easier to score.  Baffled faces around me swore at the Czech.  I couldn’t blame them,  this was an incredulous miss right up there with Ronnie Rosenthal’s effort against the Annie Road End bar all those years ago.

Thommo responded of course.  He deserves credit too for making a second decisive substitution decision within a week.  Smicer was coming off and Mulletman was coming on.  I half expect a separate compere and a fanfare for Jari these days, even if he goes quietly about his business when he does play.

It was Riise who put in another dangerous cross that lead to the equaliser.  The ball was again, mysteriously not cleared.  In fact it bounced infront of Emile and on to Jari.  One touch to control and one to dink it to his left and there was Heskey.  Although he had the gaol at his mercy this wasn’t a simple finish.  Anything but the roof of the net and THAT MAN would have saved again.  But roof of the net it was and we’d earned a point.

We have to ask ourselves if we’ve dropped 4 points against the Turks.  That was 11 chances created in Istanbul and 17 at home.  Personally I think it was.  Gala were there for the taking in both games.  Thommo says the “standard of performance was right” and I’d agree with the obvious exception of the finishing.  Bring on Fulham and Barca, because someone’s going to suffer when we get it right again.

Man for man marking: How they came across on TV

Kirkland:  Awesome shot stopping, safe on crosses and showing the kind of talent that has already been on show in his finest England u21 performances.  My only concern would be his distribution.  Although his kicking was better than the Everton game, he still appeared hesitant and played space invaders with the opposition striker again.  Still, the pitch was appalling and while shot stopping is a talent, kicking can be taught.  

Carragher:  In true TV highlight style he’ll be remembered for the Sunday League fly-hack that put us in trouble in the first half.  But overall his performance was solid and committed.  A true JC performance although I wish he’d know where the ball was going next before it arrived at his feet.

Henchoz:  It looked like Turkish TV were primed about Stephane’s ball handling skills, but the director’s close up revealed a chest down instead.  This wasn’t so much of a quiet Henchoz performance as a loud, bustling, interventionist and tough tackling one.  He played tight in with Sami and unlike his Gala equivalent, didn’t lower himself or his sporting sensibilities to keep the Gala forwards in check.

Sami:  Another towering master class in centre back artistry.  Sami was at his consistent best.  His heading positioning and marshalling were superb, and there was the Inspector Gadget foot in where required.  Was a yard off Nicolescu for the goal and appeared to see the cross too late to intervene.  Stunning goal mouth clearance to save Carra’s blushes

Xavier:  Looked as if he’d been playing in the back four for quite a while now.  Held the line with great discipline and looked very calm and assured in key situations.  Looked very much an International although the bobbly pitch treated him kinder than others.

Riise:  Is it just me or is he singled out by most teams for specialist treatment?  It must be hair-jealousy.  Worked well down the left and came away from several battles with the ball.  Always a bonus I think.  Climbed for two great efforts from first half corners but should have done better with his one on one on the keeper late on.

Murphy:  Great performance and looked comfortable in the middle in this set up, there’s something about Murphy and away games.  We can still see you, you know?  Good set piece deliveries and should never have left that one for Didi.  Passing was up to scratch and a great ball to Owen in space created one clear cut chance.

Hamman:  I should have a cut and paste paragraph for Didi.  He’s quite simply class.  Broke Gala attacks down for fun infront of Sami and Stephane, put in solid tackles where required and most importantly, provided an aura of calm in the middle of the park.  Played like a pro in winning free kicks to take the pressure off on many occasions, but with more style, pinache and probably more reason than Gala’s theatrical luvvies.  Picked up a yellow needlessly though.

Smicer:  Be honest, you scrolled down to this one first didn’t you?  Either that or you’ve undershot the Jari paragraph.  Vladi did not have an appallingly bad game.  He did battle, he found feet with passes, (notably Riise for his effort) and his movement was good.  He had to be in the box to miss those chances didn’t he?  But the fact is, he did miss those chances.  Against Everton he worked space infront of the Kop to shoot and unleashed an almighty daisy cutter that Sorensen could have sat on.  Here, he squandered two potentially match winning chances with feeble attempts on goal.  I’m not going to pass judgement, but I do wonder if GH got that “Sander Westerveld” feeling as Vladi failed to convert?

Heskey:  I thought Heskey worked like a Trojan and deserved his goal.  Yes he was caught offside and yes he gave away free kicks but on this pitch, but I got the impression he terrified their back four.  He also held up play well and was, all in all, what this game needed.  But for Mondragon being alert he’d have had two as well.  Ludicrously booked by an inept referee.

Owen:  Looked sharp and busy.  Gala defended exceedingly deep out of respect for his and Emile’s pace and only some mediaeval defending prevented him from shining.  His marker definitely wanted to change shirts before the end of the game and was lucky to stay on the pitch.  Had two chances created by himself and the by Murphy, both of which he’ll be disappointed with.  

Litmanen: Came on to rapturous scenes in the pub, such is the reputation of the mullet haired genius. He was given fifteen minutes to shine but to be honest we were only looking for one moment.  It came and our equaliser resulted.  The ooohs, aaahs and gasps of appreciation only came with the replay.  Two touches, three players round him and a perfect assist.  Do I care that he might not fit “the system”?  Not in situations like that I don’t.

Referee:  Appalling.  Both sides are likely to think he was biased although, (no surprise) I thought Gala did well to con him so often.  He failed to set the tone for the game early on and allowed a myriad of offences, including diving and imaginary card waving to go unchecked.  Didi’s yellow card was deserved but Heskey’s has to be rescinded, surely?

Home fans:  Stunning.  90 minutes of support and then a rapturous round of applause for both sides at the end.  Not sure about the missiles thrown at Murphy for the first corner or the whistling though but then there was no trouble before or after the game.  A healthy and respectful well done to both sets of supporters, not to mention the people behind the scenes that managed to bring the fans closer together

Shaky Jake:
Good piece. Again. Ya bastard.

I was just about to post a FAO Bazza to let you know that I was waiting for it too! All we got on Finnish TV was the goals after the highlights of the Roma-Barca game, and I read a couple of press reports this morning.

So good to hear that Didi is carrying on his rich vein of form- and that the peformance was right even if the goals didn't come.

Thanks for the excellent writing.


Steve C:
i thought we were magnificent last night. Had we taken our chances, it would have gone down as one of the all-time great European performances in our history.

So frustrating...3 games, about 50 chances, 2 goals, just 3 points.  :but:

Whereas last year all we could do @ hard Euro aways was shut up shop (except Olympiakos) and get a 0-0, this season, in Kyiv and Istanbul we have played superbly! Creating chances, fast, flowing counter-attacking footie, whilst maintaining our solidity at the back.

This is progress. it shows that the players, and the staff are learning from experience. The Red Machone is gathering some European steam!

Allez Les Rouges.

Very kind of you to say so Mr Shaky (the excellent writing bit, not the bastard bit  ;D)...

...although I'm surprised the Finnish press didn't get hold of Sami and Jari's performances. Any partisan Finn would be singing their praises had they seen the game.

Anyway Shaky, bang us an email next or something next time... and has Nookie Bear not got anything else for you to do today??  ;D

The one thing I didn't mention was the culture shock that came across. This was very much a cool, efficient, machine like Northern European team versus a hot headed, busy and tempestuous mediterranean side. The bit I enjoyed most there was Didi, shaking off (quite literally) one Gala player as he was being pestered before he took a free kick.

Steve - absolutely. The level of improvement is very comforting especially at the Ali S stadium, perhaps less so because of the noise... but more to do with the bobbly foreign pitch. The likes of Carra are spolit on the bowling green of Anfield. When it comes to these pitches, his technique is shown up a little, hence he's less likely to play his game how he'd like to.


Thank you, Bski, for the great article and the player summaries.  I haven't seen even a televised match in years, but the updates from good writers like you keep me a happy Red.



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