NEW YEAR TREBLE PART 2: LIVERPOOL V SUNDERLAND

Peter Sixsmith began his New Year footy fix with a trip to Whitby where he saw the home side come from behind to start 2013 on a winning note. There was little to cheer him on the his trip to Merseyside where Liverpool achieved a comprehensive victory against a lacklustre Sunderland. The final part of his trilogy sees him travelling back to Edinburgh for the Hearts-Hibs derby. One suspects his cheap rail fares and midweek room rates will bring him better value for money than his day trip to Anfield.

NEW YEAR TREBLE PART 2: LIVERPOOL V SUNDERLAND

It was Harold Wilson who said that “a week was a long time in politics”. Bugger politics. It’s a long time in football.

Seven days ago, we were bounding out of the Stadium of Light having beaten the league champions after turning in an exhilarating performance that showed all our positive qualities. Coming as it did after a win at fellow strugglers Southampton, much in the garden looked rosy and for the first time in a while we were looking upward at West Ham and Norwich rather than downward at Aston Villa and Wigan .

A home defeat to Spurs followed and then we had the visit to the cauldron of noise and passion that once was Anfield – except there seems to be very little passion at Anfield nowadays …. and that is the only dig I will have at them, as they ran out deserved 3-0 winners in a game that was one too many for us and which showed our lack of depth and cover.

We actually ran them pretty close in the first half, with McClean and Kilgallon missing the kind of chances that have to be taken at this level. McClean’s in particular was a game changer. We had gone a goal down after the ball had been returned to Suarez. The Uruguayan handball specialist (sorry, couldn’t resist it – he’s too good a target to miss, unlike Reina’s goal) had played in Sterling who scored with what I would have described as a “delightful chip” had I not been a Sunderland fan.

But had we levelled against a defence that looked shaky at times, who knows what would have happened. As it was, Suarez showed strength and pace, both of which were too much for Carlos Cuellar and scored an excellent goal (said through gritted teeth) to put them just about out of sight.

Kilgallon then contrived another miss which would have given us something to cling on to and the words of wisdom from MON and his staff would have revolved around “don’t let them score a third; frustrate them and we might just get something”.
As they say “fine words butter no parsnips” as those instructions were completely ignored and a third was quickly conceded. It was a good goal (there’s those teeth gritting again!!!) engineered by Gerrard and rounded off by Suarez. But the ease of which they took our defence apart was frightening.

After that, it was a stroll for Liverpool and only their inability to stay onside kept the score at a respectable level. Benno was correct – it could have been five or six.

The worrying thing for me was the way that our heads dropped in the second half. This has not happened under MON, even in games where we were well beaten, such as Albion last season and Manchester United this, but last night we looked a beaten and tired team who were searching for inspiration and found none.

Four games in twelve days is a lot for a squad as weak as ours. Playing so often means that the team needs to be freshened up, but we do not have the personnel to do it, although David Vaughan must wonder what he has to do to get a decent run out.

As it was we stuck with players like Kilgallon, Larsson, Colback and Johnson ( vastly inferior to Downing last night, in fact vastly inferior to Tony Cullen on that performance) all of whom looked desperately in need of a break. That may come at Horwich on Saturday.

The bench offered little. It told us that James McFadden, fine player that he once was, will be looking for employment at Coventry or Chesterfield rather than Sunderland and that Fraizer Campbell will not be adding to his England cap.

It really was a miserable second half as we were made to look very poor indeed by a Liverpool side who have three things that we don’t viz;

i) strong central defenders who are not knocked off the ball and who make firm tackles rather than last ditch ones.

ii) central midfield players who look for and find space and who can actually pass a ball. Jordan Henderson had a good game, but Gerrard and Lucas ran the show.

iii) genuine pace up front. Suarez was very good and was a real handful for Cuellar and Kilgallon – and I suspect that won’t be the last time I use that phrase this season.

We are now looking back over our shoulders as QPR conjured up the most unlikely win of the season and Good ‘ol ‘Arry begins to play the market. The result from what is forever the Sports Direct Arena, gave us some cheer as did the news of the imminent departure of Ba, but that is little solace when we were as comprehensively outplayed as this.

What will MON do in the next month? He could start by looking at some of the younger players for Saturday. If the likes of Laing, Knott and Deacon are ever going to get a chance Saturday is the perfect opportunity. Points in the league are vital and I would willingly take a cup shock at Bolton if it guaranteed 6 points from West Ham and Wigan.

The squad needs to be strengthened. A central defender who has pace and strength, a midfielder who has vision and a forward with a bit of pace would do for starters. We could do with letting some go as well – Championship managers be on the lookout for some bargains.

That’s two games in a row where the visitors have fallen apart in the second half. Let’s see what the Hibees do at Tynecastle.