MATCH REPORT – City 1 Liverpool 3

The Premier League – Saturday 25th April 2009

Defeat, again, but in defeat no little honour. City competed on equal terms with England’s most successful club throughout, even when inequality was introduced with a red card for Caleb Folan. And without this intervention, some sharper finishing and a cowardly refereeing display by Martin Atkinson, a deserved point would have been ours.

Phil Brown had brought Caleb Folan into the side at the expense of Manucho, while the unavailability of Dawson due to injury meant Kilbane moving to left-back with Barmby slotting in at midfield. It meant that on a sunny spring day at the Circle, the Tigers lined up with: Myhill; Ricketts, Turner, Zayatte, Kilbane; Fagan, Boateng (c), Marney, Barmby; Geovanni, Folan.

For Liverpool, Steven Gerrard was out injured but included Fernando Torres in the side, knowing that victory would be enough to temporarily move back to the top of the Premier League. However, attacking the North Stand, it was City who started the better, and within the first few minutes an opening was created for Caleb Folan. However, he disappointingly elected not to take the chance to shoot from about fifteen yards on his left foot, cut back inside and ultimately the chance was lost.

Torres tested Myhill after a shot was deflected to him, but the City keeper pulled off a smart save. Marney was the next to have an effort goal after an impressively aggressive run from midfield, but he dragged his twenty-yard shot wide.

Still, it was a positive beginning by City, not looking in the slightest overawed by their illustrious opposition, and in the stands this was being recognised with a cracking atmosphere being generated, despite the silence of the visiting scousers/Norwegians/home counties sorts in the away end.

Geovanni had Reina scrambling across his goal with a thumping twenty yard volley that flew about four feet wide – a great effort given that the ball was close to waist height when he connected.

Kuyt had a rare effort for Liverpool with a shot that struck a City player and went wide. They looked puzzlingly off the pace – perhaps a warm day and their midweek 4-4 draw with Arsenal was making them look a little leggy, although City’s high-tempo passing game was reminiscent of the 2008 part of this season and was regularly forcing Liverpool into soft mistakes.

It looked as though this thrilling return to form was going to carry City through until the break when the afternoon spilled into ugly controversy. Javier Mascherano burst through, was hacked at by Marney (who was subsequently cautioned), but he remained upright and surged towards goal, before throwing himself to the turf on the edge of the area.

It was a blatant and obvious dive and the City fans howled with fury at the cheating Argentinean; incredibly, referee Atkinson allowed himself to be fooled and awarded a free-kick. Alonso smashed it into the wall and we breathed a sigh of relief, only for dismay to wash over the Circle when the rebound fell to the same player and he cracked a beautifully struck through the remnants of the wall and past the unsighted Myhill. The Liverpool fans celebrated with a mixture of glee and relief – Mr Atkinson was escorted from the pitch as the bitter invective rained down on him.

It was a truly horrible moment. Quite why Mr Atkinson didn’t spot this squalid piece of cheating and issue the correct punishment we’ll never know. But as we fulminated over our half-time beverages, we speculated whether it’d prove to be a fatal blow. To have played so well and to have fraudulent antics and the complicity of a referee, it must have been a shattering outcome for the City players.

Torres flashed a shot over at the start of the second half after a neat move cut City open on the Liverpool right before the already febrile atmosphere erupted amid stormy scenes in the Liverpool area. Caleb Folan, as he’d commendably done all afternoon, harried a red into a backpass. Skrtel obstructed Folan as he sought to force a mistake from Reina, which was unsurprisingly ignored by the referee. As Skrtel tumbled to the ground, holding his head, Folan appeared to aim a kick at him.

With almost orgasmic glee, Mr Atkinson banished Folan while Skrtel milked his phantom injury, and the City seethed with fury. Phil Brown, remarkably calm while the officiating injustices mounted, reacted by bringing off the quiet Fagan and the industrious Barmby in favour of Mendy and Cousin, the latter’s introduction bringing a hearty cheer after his frustrating time out of the side.

It amounted to little though, as Liverpool doubled their lead shortly after, and again in controversial circumstances. A corner was half-cleared and returned into the area, where it appeared to be handled by a Liverpool player; by this point, he could probably have caught it and thrown it into the goal without incurring censure, but as the ball fell to a Liverpool player, a shot was mis-hit towards goal and nodded home by Kuyt.

The response by the City fans was stirring, as the noise levels – among the best this season – were maintained, although we finally did hear from the visiting support, by a comfortable margin the worst we’ve seen to date in the Premier League. When we’re being smugly told by Liverpool fans and their media cheerleaders about their special nature, we’ll smile wryly and remember a warm afternoon at the Circle.

Arbeloa was booked for a foul on Geovanni, and as City warmed to the task of heroic underdogs fighting a two-man disadvantage, we scored. A sparkling cross-field ball by Mendy found Cousin in a bit of space on the left. He burst past his flat-footed marker and sent an inviting ball into the area which evaded Marney but found Geovanni sauntering in unattended at the back to easily steer a shot past Reina. 2-1, and we fancied upsetting the odds yet again.

Liverpool should have restored their two goal advantage a minute later when a Torres header struck Myhill’s crossbar, and with time against the Tigers Phil Brown brought off the superb Boateng in favour of Manucho.

Sadly it was not to be, and City’s attacking endeavours becoming ever more desperate and being foiled, it must be noted, by a newly resolute Liverpool defence, the game was settled in the last minute. Myhill pulled off a very good save from a shot that took an unhelpful deflection, but Kuyt was on hand to apply an easy finish.

Injury time was played out amid a backdrop of You’ll Never Walk Alone being drowned out by a startling hostile reaction to the calculating cheating of the men who were being serenaded by it, and at full time Mr Atkinson was again offered an escort from the ground as City players were feted for a fine performance.

No points this week, but heads held high. We drop to the very edge of the bottom three, and are in urgent need of a win. At the time of writing, Blackburn have virtually secured their own safety while Middlesbrough’s brief flicker was ruthlessly extinguished at Arsenal, which seems to leave Newcastle, City and Sunderland all scrambling to avoid the final relegation place.

Aston Villa next, a fearsome prospect. But if we play with the same tenacity, courage and skill as in this game, receive an overdue slice of luck and are the beneficiaries of an even handed refereeing performance, we’ll be fine.  (AD)