FULL TIME: Southampton 0-3 Liverpool
And that’s that! Liverpool didn’t play at their best, but they’ve still managed to win away at a very tricky venue by three clear goals. They move above Arsenal into second spot, and can’t deny they’re in the title race now. “Name. On. The. Trophy,” concludes half-time wind-sailer Niall Mullen, who is really starting to push his luck.
90 min +5: “Okay, with three minutes to go I think I’m just about ready to put my Niall Mullen voodoo doll away after his fate enticing attempt to jinx things at half time,” writes Phil Sawyer. “He was sailing close to the wind, though.”
GOAL! Southampton 0-3 Liverpool (Gerrard pen 90+5)
Liverpool’s captain whistles the ball into the top right, an ersatz tribute to Graeme Souness’s effort in the 1984 European Cup final shootout.
90 min +4: Penalty to Liverpool! Suarez chases a long ball down the inside left. He twists and turns, and is eventually clipped to the floor by Fonte. That’ll be a free attempt at goal from 12 yards!
90 min +3: The ball breaks to Rodriguez on the edge of the Liverpool D. He shapes a shot towards the top left but sees it blocked by a last-ditch take-a-bullet-for-the-president lunge from Skrtel. Some of Liverpool’s gritty defending has been up there with the Houllier and Benitez eras. Small acorns and all that.
90 min +2: Suarez is limping around as a result of that Wanyama challenge. He doesn’t look particularly comfortable, writes resident Guardian quack Dr Murray, who has no clue whatsoever if he’s being honest. Liverpool will be hoping there’s nothing seriously wrong there.
90 min +1: Both teams are really struggling to keep hold of the ball. It’s all pretty scrappy.
90 min: There will be four added minutes.
88 min: Saints have more of the ball, we’ve been saying this for a while now, but nothing much is occurring as a result. St Mary’s is pretty quiet, the Liverpool corner of the stadium apart. “I’d say that Brendan Rodgers should have put on a defensive specialist or two around the 75th minute to put this game to bed,” opines Mike in frigid Ottawa, “but he doesn’t have any such creatures. Shows how valuable Lucas is, I think. So play to your strengths: only strategy is to go on the offence as much as possible!” Oddly enough, the attack has on the whole misfired today, while it’s the much-maligned defence that’s really stepped up to the plate. Plenty of time for some of their usual komik kutz, having said all that.
86 min: Gerrard is booked for a laughably cynical crump on Lallana in the centre circle, as the Saints man looked to break into the Liverpool half with bother on his mind.
85 min: Sturridge goes off, to be replaced by Iago Aspas. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in ten straight Premier League games is safe. The Liverpool striker “only” made it as far as eight.
84 min: Wanyama is booked for coming straight through the back of Suarez on the halfway line. It’s as clear a booking as there is. Not that Wanyama sees it that way, getting right up in the referee’s grille, to the point where Lee Probert clearly ponders brandishing a red card. But common sense takes a grip, everyone calms down, and a yellow it is.
82 min: Lallana lumps a free kick into the Liverpool area from the middle of the park. The away side deal with it fairly easily.
81 min: SIMON MIGNOLET COMES OFF HIS LINE!!! Yes, he really has done it! He races out to punch clear a corner from the left, a successful sortie. As well as that season’s first, he also saved Flanagan’s blushes there; the young full-back had conceded a needless corner with a loose cushioned header sent in the vague direction of his keeper.
79 min: Rodriguez cuts in from the left and slices a dismal shot across the face of goal and out of play on the right. “What is going on with Glen Johnson?” asks Richard South. “He is stinking the place out today.” Yes, he’s been very ponderous. The amount of times he’s given the ball away is unreal. Cissohko is a more basic player, but would offer more solidity, for sure.
76 min: A double change for the home side. Lambert is replaced by 18-year-old Sam Gallagher, while the former Celtic midfield general Victor Wanyama is on for Cork.
75 min: Suarez curves his run in the Ian Rush style to stay onside, then is released down the inside right. But his low fizzer flashes wide of the left-hand post, Boruc in total control of the situation.
73 min: Gerrard sends a daisycutter towards the bottom left from 20 yards. Boruc fingertips round the corner magnificently. The resulting corner nearly curls in at the near post, but the keeper and Chambers manage to pinball the thing out of play for another corner. Nothing comes of that one, but Liverpool are firmly on top now.
72 min: Liverpool should be home and hosed. Suarez robs Fonte down the inside right. He rounds Boruc on the outside and looks for Sterling in the middle. His second attempt is far too high for wee Raheem, who retrieves the ball on the left, twists and turns, then pulls a ball back for Henderson, who should score from ten yards but converts for three rugby points instead.
71 min: A lot of faffing around in the midfield at the moment. “Once again, the kind of profligacy usually associated with a posh kid during freshers’ week is costing us,” writes Arthur Hicks. “By now if I had a pound for every time I’d read the words ‘the scoreline not reflecting the Saints’ performance’ I could’ve paid off my student loan.”
70 min: Henderson is booked for a cynical tug on Shaw as the young chap looks to make good down the left.
69 min: Suddenly, from nothing, Liverpool almost put the game to bed. (Late interventions from Matt Le Tissier notwithstanding.) And it was so simple. A throw down the right finds Sturridge racing into the box. He rounds Boruc on the outside, but leaves himself a tight angle, and his attempt to Mark Hughes In The 1991 Cup Winners Cup Final one home flashes straight across the face of goal.
68 min: Southampton are enjoying most of the ball, but they’re not doing a whole lot with it at the moment. But Liverpool are sitting very deep, inviting trouble.
65 min: Johnson, twice in the space of a minute, gifts possession back to Southampton under no pressure whatsoever. Then Suarez runs the ball out of play down the left. Liverpool really haven’t clicked today, yet find themselves two goals up. Southampton just need to keep going, because this side appears utterly incapable of closing games down. What they’d give for only their third clean sheet in the league this year.
63 min: Chambers is sent wheeching into the area down the right by a lovely reverse pass from Rodriguez, but he hesitates and Liverpool are allowed to close him down and eventually clean up. Liverpool looked wide open there. The Liverpool fans are in fine voice now, belting out a few of their favourite numbers, but this game is far from over.
61 min: A free kick down the inside right for Saints, allowing the home side to load the box. Ramirez curls the set piece towards the far post, but Skrtel, under pressure and not wholly steady on his feet, manages to hold his position under the ball and allows it to sail out of play for a goal kick.
60 min: That was incredibly poor judgement from Lovren there, who was diddled all ends up by Suarez. A shame for the home side, who were looking the better team. Liverpool’s passing had been uncertain and ponderous up until this point, but that should give them a boost. Can Saints battle their way back into this match? They’ve certainly showed they’ve got the quality to do so.
GOAL! Southampton 0-2 Liverpool (Sterling 58)
And with his first touch, Sterling puts a bit of daylight between the two teams. A ball rolled down the inside-right channel for Suarez, who spins and leaves a flat-footed Lovren behind. He zips into the box and whips a low pass into the centre, where Sterling - who has been on the field for 80 seconds - sidefoots into the bottom right.
56 min: A bit better from Liverpool, this. First, Henderson makes a yard on Shaw down the right, only for his low cross to be cleared by Lovren. Then Chambers extends a leg to intercept a right-to-left crossfield Coutinho pass that oh so nearly released Suarez down the left. Then Suarez wins a corner down the same flank, but Coutinho blasts it straight out of play on the right. It’s the young Brazilian’s last heavy touch of the evening: he’s hooked for Sterling.
54 min: Coutinho, almost invisible today, rakes a long ball down the centre and nearly releases Sturridge. That’s a fine pass from a quality player who hasn’t otherwise been on his game today. Unfortunately for Liverpool, Fonte is a step ahead of Sturridge and not about to give way. Marvellous defending under pressure.
53 min: Agger and Mignolet hold play up, the former faffing around as the latter prepares to take a goal kick. The home fans aren’t happy, and no wonder. There’s over half an hour to go! Title-chasing sides should be above this.
51 min: Lallana is a magnificent player. He pirouettes down the left and reaches the byline, his fancy skills forcing the Liverpool defence to stand back. Eventually he fires a cross into the six-yard box, but Mignolet handles well. Liverpool swarm upfield, Suarez in space down the left, but his floated cross is easily picked off by Boruc.
49 min: Sturridge performs a ridiculous triple salchow upon entering the Saints box down the right. Nope! Get up! Gerrard has a blast from distance, but it’s easily blocked. Saints go up the other end, Lallana having a dig from distance after cutting in from the right. Mignolet is behind it all the way.
47 min: Liverpool have yet to retain possession since the restart. With this in mind, here’s a feature called Things I Never Thought I’d Say, with Paul Ewart: “Can Aly Cissokho come on?”
45 min 48 sec: Ramirez wins a corner down the right. Nothing comes of it, but what an instant impact from the substitute.
45 min 14 sec: Ramirez has his first shot.
Presenting the second half, ladies and gentlemen, for your pleasure: “If Liverpool do beat their Saints Noires then I think I’ll put the mortgage on them for the title,” writes Niall Mullen. “Away at Stoke, away at Spurs and away at Southampton all in the same season? Name. On. The. Trophy.” Superstitious Liverpool fans aren’t going to forgive you for that when the red tide breaks over your team’s heads in this second half. Now then: Liverpool really do need to raise their game if they’re to keep their noses in front of this very impressive Southampton side, and on the tail of Chelsea at the top of the table. With this in mind, they should probably switch the anonymous Coutinho for Sterling. But no changes for them yet. Southampton swap Davis for Ramires, though, and get this second half underway.
Half-time advertisement: It’s a shameless one. So sue me!
HALF TIME: Southampton 0-1 Liverpool
Not entirely sure how Liverpool are in the lead here, but that’s the scoreline. We should be in for a magnificent second half of football. Don’t go flipping!
45 min: Shaw rakes a pass from the left touchline out of play on the right. It’s the first poor ball he’s played all evening. He’s a proper prospect, is this lad, like I’m telling you anything you don’t already know. There will be two added minutes of a half that’s flown by.
43 min: Saints should be level. Shaw once again makes good ground down the left. His low ball into the middle is dummied by Lallana, and ends up at the feet of Lambert, ten yards out. He’s only got Mignolet to beat, and fires a low, hard shot which nine times out of ten would billow the net in its centre. But Mignolet sticks out a strong arm to stop the ball and gather. A fine save, though the keeper shouldn’t really have been given the chance to make it.
41 min: Saints camp outside Liverpool’s box awhile. Liverpool look to break upfield through Suarez, who can’t quite release Gerrard down the left. Rodriguez nearly tears clear down the right but miscontrols. This is nonsense, neither team are in control of what they are doing, but as it’s being played out at 101mph, it’s highly entertaining nonsense.
39 min: Chambers once again makes a nuisance of himself down the right. His excellent low cross is aimed for Schneiderlin, on the penalty spot. It reaches him, but only after Lallana gets in the road, deflecting the ball a tad and forcing Schneiderlin to readjust. He still gets a shot away, but it’s over the bar. Southampton are very impressive. Shaw and Chambers are causing no end of trouble down the wings.
37 min: Liverpool string two passes together! Sturridge is sent racing down the right, and his low cross is met by Suarez, whose first-time swish from ten yards goes straight down Boruc’s throat.
36 min: Liverpool can’t string more than two passes together at the moment. Saints have enjoyed 70% possession during the last ten minutes. “Just noticed Dundee United legend Ivan Golac in the Southampton team photo,” interjects Simon McMahon in the excited, jabbering fashion. “To say his time at Tannadice was memorable would be an understatement. Our first ever Scottish Cup in his first season (after six final defeats in the previous 20 years under Jim McLean) and then gone the next with the club about to be relegated. Met him in 2010 at Hampden before we won the Cup for a second time. He was a gent, I could only mumble some nonsense about smelling the flowers.” Also notable in the picture is the understudy for goalkeeper Ivan Katalinic, George and Mildred Roper’s next door neighbour, Jeffrey Fourmile.
34 min: And now Rodriguez attempts to float a Sturridgesque chip into the top left from a position down the inside right. It floats over the bar, but it’s surely only a matter of time before Southampton draw level. They’re playing very well indeed, and Liverpool have no answer for their relentless attack.
33 min: This is a Saints super show at the moment, score nothwithstanding. Shaw hugs the left-hand touchline and sprints clear of the Liverpool back line. He fires a low cross into the area. Lallana meets it 12 yards out, though he’s over-run it a bit. Nevertheless, he adjusts and drags a shot inches wide left.
32 min: Saints hit the post! Lambert chests down a looping cross from the right from Chambers. It’s a gorgeous set-up for Lallana, who is level with the right-hand post, ten yards out. Lallana sidefoots gracefully past the advancing Mignolet, but instead of finding the bottom-left corner, hits the woodwork. So unlucky!
30 min: Saints turn up the gas. Chambers makes good down the right and his dangerous low ball into the area is slipped out of play for a corner by the desperate leg of Johnson. Nothing comes from the resulting corner, but the home side are very much on the front foot now.
27 min: And Southampton come again, Lallana sending Lambert scampering down the left. His cross is just over the head of Rodriguez, allowing Johnson to chest down for Mignolet. I would say calmly, but that’s not really an appropriate adjective when dealing with this defensive unit, is it.
26 min: Shaw whistles a low ball into the Liverpool area from the left. Lambert takes a step into the box and takes a first-time slash at the ball. It flies out of play, high and wide left of the goal. That’s better from the home side, though.
24 min: Southampton were looking dangerous before the goal, but have retreated into their shell a wee bit. A little bit of belief has been temporarily misplaced. From the halfway line, Davis shanks a woeful ball out for a goal kick down the right, having looked for God Knows Who. “Lawrie McMenemy looks like he’s lowering the average age of the front row in your photo,” notes Gary Naylor. “And David Armstrong didn’t get a seat!”
21 min: Suarez looks for the top-right corner. It’s not a million miles away, but Boruc was never worried. The ball sails serenely into the stand.
20 min: Allen twists and turns adroitly down the inside left, and is nearly sent clear by a clever one-two with Coutinho. The ball’s intercepted, and breaks into the middle. Suarez is the first to the loose ball, and is immediately clipped by Cork. This will be a free kick in a very dangerous position, on the edge of the D, right in the centre.
18 min: Lovren is getting the lion’s share of the flak for Southampton’s hesitancy on Sky Sports, but I have no idea what Lallana was doing. He poked the ball back towards his own area, in a pocket populated by both Sturridge and Suarez, and Lovren saw it clank off his knee.
GOAL! Southampton 0-1 Liverpool (Suarez 16)
It’s Suarez’s 100th appearance in the league for Liverpool, and he’s celebrated it by ending his goal drought. A pair of heavy touches by Lallana and Lovren on the edge of the Saints area, with Sturridge causing bother. The ball breaks to the lurking Suarez, who passes the ball into the bottom right from 12 yards out.
15 min: Saints are on top here, and causing a lot of trouble for Liverpool down the left wing. Lallana in space, but his cross is eyebrowed clear by Skrtel.
14 min: Davis slips a ball into the Liverpool area down the inside left. Lallana goes after it, and is put on his face by a hefty shoulder charge from Flanagan. It was a good old-fashioned challenge, and would have been a soft penalty to concede - but file that one under Seen Them Given. Notable that the crowd claim with more heart than the Saints players, perhaps.
13 min: More carelessness from Southampton when they’re enjoying good field position. Shaw is in acres down the left, Henderson nowhere near him. But with the box loaded, the resulting cross is blootered out of play on the right.
12 min: Allen gives the ball away to Lallana on the halfway line, and Liverpool are suddenly exposed at the back. But the ball forward to Lambert is way too strong, and the Liverpool midfielder is let off the hook.
9 min: Shaw and Flanagan go up for a high ball on the halfway line. The young man clatters the younger man, Shaw coming off second best in the challenge. There seems to be no reckless behaviour, just an accident. Saints sweep upfield, and Rodriguez has the Liverpool defence jogging backwards in impotent panic, but with options either side, he fizzes a useless low shot wide left. That looked promising for Southampton for a minute.
8 min: ... another corner’s won on the right. And then another corner on the right. Coutinho has a swipe from a tricky angle on the right, but his effort is well wide. Liverpool are pressing Southampton back, and are threatening to click into gear.
6 min: Sturridge races clear of Lovren down the right, and makes it into the box. He’s within his rights to shoot, but opts to square it for Suarez instead. Suarez would have an empty net to sidefoot into had the ball reached him, Boruc having raced out to meet Sturridge, but the low pass is poked out of play by Fonte, sliding in brilliantly. That’ll be a corner on the left. From which ...
5 min: Shaw and Lallana combine nicely down the inside-left channel, and the eventual looping cross causes minor uncertainty in the centre of Liverpool’s defence. Skrtel eventually manages to hack clear. “With Flanagan and Allen in their team, are Liverpool the new Crazy Gang?” quips Simon McMahon. Some references to ITMA coming up in the second half, kids, so don’t go away.
4 min: And this is when the opposition level it up at 2-2. But it’s been a fairly nondescript start. Come on, everyone!
3 min: Liverpool are often two goals up by now.
2 min: It’s a high-paced start, with both teams looking to knock the ball around in pretty triangles. It’s all in the middle of the park, though. “Regarding the 1981/82 match between these two, and following the recurring ‘ew look at that kit’ theme, I can’t help but grimace at that full yellow affair the Liverpool players have adorned,” writes Alex BR. “It would appear that my beloved team has something of a track record for kits that make people feel violently ill.” The ecru was quite soothing, though, wasn’t it?
And we’re off! Liverpool get the ball rolling, and make off down the pitch with obvious attacking intent. But while Saints are slightly shocked at the visitors’ gall, and are on the back foot, Henderson miscontrols with options on both sides and the early danger is over.
The teams are out! Southampton are in their not-particularly-popular all-red number, while Liverpool sport their not-particularly-popular purple-white-and-black quilted shirt. Now then, it’s totally understandable that Saints fans are in a hot funk over the temporary loss of their red-and-white stripes, and it’s certainly not my place to butt in. Still, I quite like the fact the club are bold enough to occasionally flirt with rather outré designs. The Rank Xerox bib, pictured at the top of this report, for example. The incorrectly-tuned-TV stylings of the late 70s. The all-red with white-and-black epaulettes of the mid 80s. Or this Denmark homage ...
... which was so ludicrous it made everyone appreciate the bog-standard stripes all the more when they finally returned after the best part of a decade away. Good times, no?
Ah right you are.
Southampton are able to select Dejan Lovren, who scored the winner at Anfield earlier in the season, for the first time in six weeks: Boruc, Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw, Schneiderlin, Cork, Rodriguez, Steven Davis, Lallana, Lambert.
Subs: Gazzaniga, Clyne, Yoshida, Ramirez, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse, Gallagher.
Liverpool swap the in-form Raheem Sterling for the in-form Joe Allen: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan, Allen, Gerrard, Henderson, Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho.
Subs: Brad Jones, Toure, Aspas, Moses, Cissokho, Sterling, Teixeira.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
The match from 1981/82 is worth a closer look, actually, and not just for the bit where Keith Cassells turns into Roberto Rivelino. Ian Rush puts the finishing touch to one of the most graceful route-one goals you’re ever likely to see. The Channon masterpiece (which starts at about 2m 55s) really does unfold in a manner not a million miles away from Carlos Alberto’s cherry on Brazil’s 1970 cake, starting out in the left-back position, moving with high-speed intricacy up the wing, and ending with a blooter from a guy hanging around down the inside-right channel. Channon nearly won the game for Saints but was denied by the post. Ronnie Whelan was beginning to show he was more than good enough to take the place of a world-class operator like Ray Kennedy. And the Saints midfield contained World Cup winner Alan Ball. You wouldn’t be wasting eight minutes, ten seconds by watching it.
If ever a club have had Liverpool’s number, it’s Southampton. Back in Liverpool’s glory days of the late 70s and early 80s, when the club was hoovering up league titles and European Cups, a trip to the south coast to face the Saints would invariably prove too much for a team who could swat aside Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach but never got a handle on Lawrie McMenemy’s patchwork heroes. In the six times Southampton hosted Liverpool during the Red Men’s pomp, between 1979 and 1984, the home team triumphed three times, and there were two draws. On the one occasion Bob Paisley’s side managed to scrape a last-minute win, in April 1982, Liverpool still suffered the indignity of conceding one of the greatest team goals of all time, Mick Channon putting his name to a move of such rococo brilliance that it made Clodoaldo, Pele and Carlos Alberto look about as elegant as the Three Stooges.
Liverpool weren’t sorry to see the back of The Dell. Saints put four past them there on two famous occasions, in 1989 and 1994, though their last visit there in 1999 says most of what needs to be said. Ged Houllier’s Michael Owen-inspired side were 3-0 up and cruising that day, whereupon a well-upholstered Matthew le Tissier waddled on with all the grace and mobility of Michael Moore’s puppet in Team America, then spent the final 15 minutes masterminding a stunning three-goal comeback from the centre circle. It was a performance, in every way, of Molbyesque proportions. No, Liverpool weren’t sorry to see the back of The Dell at all.
Problem being for Liverpool, Southampton’s shiny new St Mary’s Stadium has proved even more of an unwelcoming hellhole. In their five visits to the place, they’ve lost four times, and come away with all the points only once, back in 2003, Emile Heskey sealing those. A second win this evening is pretty much essential if they’re to retain serious interest in this season’s title race. And if history isn’t a big enough burden, there’s also the recent form to consider. Southampton have won the last two games between these two sides, and comprehensively so: a thoroughly deserved 1-0 win at Anfield in September, and an embarrassingly one-sided 3-1 victory at St Mary’s last March. Liverpool’s defence has taken a lot of flak recently, but it was their midfielders who failed to cope with Southampton’s relentless pressure in those two defeats. Steven Gerrard and his henchmen will need to seriously up their game tonight against the likes of Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin, or it’s bye-bye title dreams before the run-in’s begun in earnest. Southampton, by comparison, are snug in the upper reaches of the mid-table, and can ping it around this evening with carefree abandon. For Liverpool, as the PG Tips chimps so nearly said, it’s the test.
But the visitors can take heart! While the recent form between the sides points to a Saints victory, the wider picture is very much in Liverpool’s favour: they’re unbeaten in the league since the turn of the year, winning six from eight. They’re scoring goals for fun, having found the net 17 times in their last five league games. Southampton by comparison have only won one of their last six at St Mary’s, their initially freewheeling season slowing down a wee bit. And if Saints are allowed the benefit of some nostalgic succour, Liverpool should be given a little toffee to chew on too. Back in March 1986, a New-York-Or-Bust title chase had only just begun for Liverpool when they visited the Dell. They were ten games from the finishing line, rather than this season’s 11, but then as now they had little or no room for error. George Lawrence put Saints ahead early in the second half, and hopes of Liverpool closing down leaders Everton looked slim, bordering on over. Ten minutes after Lawrence’s strike, John Wark and Ian Rush had turned it around, and Liverpool held on for a 2-1 victory. The title was still on.
So anyway, this has been a roundabout way of saying that both teams will fancy this. Liverpool’s last two league games, incidentally, have ended 3-2 and 4-3. If the pattern continues, we’re in for a nine-goal thriller. Nine-goal thriller, please!
Tonight’s dull 0-0 draw, your foolish MBM hack having recklessly tempted, teased and tousled the hair of fate, kicks off at: 5.30pm.