Grinding out results. It’s a phrase that gets lashed around a lot. It’s particularly a phrase used for successful teams who are playing inferior teams to themselves but don’t turn in the type of performance or result expected of them. When you think of this phrase though, what do you think of? Determination, grit, doing the dirty things, coping with dirtier things. Let’s be honest, it’s all traits that you have probably thought of rarely this season when you have thought of Liverpool.
But that’s exactly what they did last night. They turned up, they didn’t particularly set the world alight, they won, they left. Not very Liverpool at all.
I wasn’t exactly confident going into this game. Anyone who has (get ready for a shameless plug) read this weeks’ ‘Is Right La’ will see just how little confidence I had of a Liverpool victory before the game. I even went as far as throwing £1 on Watford to win 2-0 and Deeney to score first. Because that’s what Liverpool usually do, isn’t it? They turn up, they dominate, they concede goals from set pieces, they leave. Easy £200 in my opinion.
But that isn’t how it turned out. The opening stages were close. It wasn’t long before Coutinho suffered a dead leg and was forced off. A disaster it certainly was not. A dead leg will probably see the little Brazilian sidelined for a couple of days and no more, but it’s understandable that he came off in the state he did. In an ideal world, Sturridge would’ve come on in his place. Sturridge has the ability to either drop on the hole and hold up the ball, or play on the shoulder and push defences back. He can give your team a reason to play with width, which is what we needed. But he’s had a long layoff and hasn’t been fancied much this season. With the way Adam Lallana has played this season, it’s easy to see why he was brought on instead.
Lallana was effective as well to be fair. It was a typical Lallana performance. He probed Watford and made them uncomfortable. He had a couple of nice touches and won free kicks in dangerous areas. That’s Lallana in a nutshell. For the first half, it looked like the game might even finish goalless. It was petering into a half time of silence, which was the same case with Sky’s non-existent commentary.
But then. My word.
Milner had got forward a fair bit in the first half and put in some poor balls. Watford’s defence were surprisingly struggling with crosses. So it was a shock when they conceded from the first half decent ball into their box. The shock came from the fact it was Lucas Leiva who put it in the mixer. It wasn’t a great ball. The finish though….Wow. Nobody saw that coming. Emre Can has had his fair share of critics this season but that goal shows the class and confidence of the young German. It was going to take something spectacular for either team to get anything out of the game. That goal certainly qualifies.
In the second half, the story didn’t change. Watford never really escaped their own half. Their service to Deeney was abject and M’Baye Niang was virtually ineffective. Lovren and Matip never looked in real danger at all. They swept up well and Liverpool attacks stemmed from their ability to easily deal with the opposition front two. Liverpool were pressing for a second. But it never came.
In the last 10 minutes, nerves crept in. Klavan was brought on to shore up the defence, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. Mignolet was having a very good game but was nonetheless called upon from situations that should’ve been dealt with better. Sturridge was brought on to hold the ball up. But such was Liverpools anxiety, he was rarely supported going forward. Four minutes of time were added. It’s very Liverpool to concede in this time. It’s typical Liverpool. It was almost certain.
94:45. Janmaat lobbed a ball back into the box. It flicked off Okaka’s head and bobbled towards the back post. Sebastian Prodl was 5 yards out and launched the ball towards goal. Simon Mignolet, who had been faultless all night, was now helpless. Although the ball must have went at 600 miles an hour, it took an age to crash off the crossbar and away from danger. The referee blew the final whistle. It was finally over.
Liverpool survived. We showed grit, determination and ground out a vital win. This was personified by two players – Emre Can and Simon Mignolet. Can put in a performance of massive character. He played like a man with something to prove. Mignolet likewise. The Belgian ‘keeper looked like a 180 degree opposite of the player we had last season. Up against flat track bullies like Deeney and Okaka, Mignolet stood up to the challenge. He claimed crosses he would usually flap at with ease and showed the leadership a good goalkeeper should do.
And so we are still 4th. This seems to have been taken as a watershed moment for Liverpool. It’s fair to say that with United and City both dropping points that Liverpool are now masters of their own destiny. However there will be equally if not much sterner tests for the reds ahead. Next week’s home game against Southampton is a potential banana skin and the following Sundays trip to West Ham is a frightening concept considering how we have played in these fixtures this season.
Determination, character, true grit. All facets Liverpool will have to show again over the next 3 games if we are to keep our Tuesday and Wednesday nights free next season.