Time for home comforts as Dalglish enters month of milestones
It is the month of milestones for Kenny Dalglish. Almost every day in January, the Liverpool manager has been reminded that it has been 'a year since his first…' following his dramatic return.
This particular weekend heralds a year since his first victory upon taking over the reins from Roy Hodgson.
Having opened up with an FA Cup defeat at Manchester United, a chastening loss at Blackpool and a scrambled draw with Everton, Liverpool demolished Wolves 3-0 at Molineux.
Slow out of the blocks Liverpool train on Friday at Melwood
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Inspired by the finishing of Fernando Torres and given a gloss by a spectacular volley from Raul Meireles, that was only Liverpool’s second victory on their travels of the campaign. The previous had come in scrambling fashion at Bolton on Halloween 2010.
That afternoon, though, Liverpool played as Liverpool teams of the past used away from home, defending stoically and being utterly ruthless on the break, once Torres opened the scoring before half-time there was never any doubt what the final outcome would be.
From that day, Liverpool have been reliable in away games. Last season there were eye-catching wins at Sunderland and Fulham, plus a doughty draw at the Emirates Stadium, while the current campaign has yielded, among others, wins at Arsenal and Chelsea.
Should they beat Bolton at the Reebok, Liverpool will have accrued more points at this stage away from Anfield – their total would move to 19 with a victory – at this stage than they managed in the entirety of last season. That, clearly, represents progress.
Home form, however, is starting to become puzzling for this collective. On one hand it says something that Liverpool will head into February unbeaten at Anfield in the Barclays Premier League yet, on the other, it is impossible to escape the fact 14 points have been carelessly squandered.
‘We couldn’t break Stoke down,’ said veteran defender Jamie Carragher, reflecting on the latest 0-0 draw. ‘It’s been a problem a few times at Anfield this season. We need to sort that out before the end of the season if we want to get to where want to be, which is obviously the top four.’
Watching brief: Kenny Dalglish keeps at en on his players
Bookmakers will offer odds-against Liverpool finishing in front of Chelsea and Arsenal to get fourth place but there are other prizes to chase and the next nine days is when Liverpool simply cannot afford to fail in front of their own supporters again.
On Wednesday, the famous old stadium will be packed to see if Liverpool can preserve a first leg advantage and knock Manchester City out en route to the Carling Cup final; should they then beat Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round, the task of reaching Wembley will be much simpler.
‘A draw at home against City would be OK!’ said Carragher. ‘We wouldn’t have a problem with that and we would take that now. You wouldn’t want a draw against United, as you wouldn’t want to be going to Old Trafford for a replay.
‘I don’t think anyone is looking at those games (in relation to league form). Maybe when you play sides that come on the front foot, it makes things easier. Teams have come here and made it difficult but you would expect that City and United will come and try to win the game.’
During his first spell at Anfield, both as a player and a manager, visiting teams used to be beaten before they had even emerged from the tunnel but now it seems they are feeding off the anxiety that emanates from the stands.
The atmosphere has changed dramatically at Anfield in recent years – old terrace songs that were once ubiquitous such as Scouser Tommy are rarely, if ever, heard – and the moment things fail to go according to plan, the impatience is tangible.
Anfield, really, should provide the bedrock for Liverpool to push forward, not be a place that holds them back. So if this month of milestones for Dalglish is continue – how he would love to say on Thursday morning 'it is the first trip to Wembley since…' – the slip-ups at home, simply, must stop.