By Simon Meakin
With the Reds ready to face Crystal Palace and achance to edge ever nearer to a first league title in 30 years, Simon Meaking returns with his usual match preview.
Well. When I decided to embark on a one-off series of match reviews for each
Premier League match at Anfield last August I wasn’t quite expecting a season like
this. Yes I know I could qualify to join Sybil Fawlty on Mastermind, specialist subject
the Bleedin’ Obvious with that statement – point me out one amongst us who
predicted we could potentially move to within one win of our first title in 30 years v
Crystal Palace at Anfield in late June in front of no fans, and I’ll show you someone
who has clearly got Vladimir Putin to hack in to their old Twitter posts and doctor
Back in August I was frankly feeling a bit apprehensive about the new season. Could
we really summon up the emotional energy to compete against what felt like the
remorseless Man City machine having fallen so agonisingly short last time.? It felt
like being up against a Terminator (For some reason I see them as being more like
the other one from Terminator 2 rather than Arnie). Never in a million years did I
expect us to be 20 odd points clear in a procession for the title.
And that’s before the truly surreal (and making no bones about it for many people
tragic) turn of events over the last few months. I had to look back to try and
remember what I’d written about the Bournemouth game. It turned out to be a bit
tighter than the comfortable 3-0 win I’d predicted, but we did clinch a record
breaking 22 nd straight home league win. The place in the Champions League quarter
finals I was confident we’d book didn’t quite happen alas and the Monday night trip
to our neighbours took slightly longer to arrive than expected (only one day of the
week out in the end to be fair, but a match that could be described as “slightly more
daylighty” than your average night time kick off – and yes should I ever end up on
Countdown confronted with a board saying “yhigaldyt” I am definitely having that as
my nine letter word).
I was at Anfield for the Bournemouth game and went to the Cabbage for a few post-
match beers to celebrate our win. Everything seemed (sort of) normal(ish).
Stepping through the door on the way out of the pub was like stepping into another
dimension (I’m sure if you go back and look at the CCTV footage of the Cabbage car
park you’ll see that sort of swimmy, wobbly effect beloved of sci-fi films signifying
this sort of thing). At that precise point my wife phoned me, spooked by empty
shelves in London shops, and sent me on a Magical Mystery Tour of every chemist
and supermarket between Anfield and Lime Street (not sure the Beatles had the
London Road branch of Boots in mind when they wrote the song to be honest),
stocking up on as much hand sanitiser and Aspirin as I could lay my hands on (all I
can say by way of apology for this wanton display of panic buying was that at least I
left all the bog roll). Got on the train back to London and that was it. Haven’t set
foot in a pub since, haven’t left London since, (in fact barely been more than 2 miles
from my house bar the odd bike ride).
And no football. Until now. Watching the derby was a very odd (and frankly a bit
dull at times) experience particularly after turning off the fake crowd noise for the
last ten minutes. It sounded like it was being broadcast from the local baths. With
the players taking particular care not to break the “no running” bit of the “no bombing, no diving, no heavy petting” rulebook. I wouldn’t have been surprised to
find some kids having a surreptitious wee in the corner of the pool/pitch had any
actually been allowed in. It was a Merseyside derby as watched by Sherlock Holmes
in an opium induced stupor rather than the raucous, Jamie Carragher somehow
managing to not get sent off type I’m used to.
Which brings us to Crystal Palace. Managed by one Roy Hodgson. A man who’s time
at Liverpool was to put it mildy “not regarded as a total success”. I know some
Liverpool fans who try to claim that that era never actually happened at all and it
was all a bad dream (the mysterious Cabbage Hall “Bermuda Triangle” car park
wibbly wobbly crack in time working its strange powers again maybe?). My only trip
to Anfield during his reign was to witness us lose to Blackpool (Blackpool!) while
suffering with a stinking hangover so it’s safe to say it’s never going to be troubling
my list of top ten Anfield moments.
Another fun fact about Crystal Palace is that it is the only football team to begin with
five consonants (something to bear in mind, if fired up from owning the Countdown
panel’s collective ass with my “Daylighty” zinger I then forget about picking any
vowels in the next round). On a more footballing note Palace have been a bit of a
thorn in our side over the last few years. The last ten minutes at Selhurst Park in the
infamous collapse that put the final nail in our title challenge under Brendan Rodgers
still brings me out in a cold sweat. I was so incensed at our spineless performance
after they beat us in Gerrard’s final match at Anfield that I flounced out of the
stadium in a big diva hissy fit worthy of Elton John at the end of the match rather
than stay for the Gerrard farewell (although it did mean it was the quickest I’ve ever
been served my post-match pint in the pub). They inflicted Klopp’s first defeat at
Anfield on us (I had to apologise after I sent an expletive filled text about Palace to
the wrong person after that one). And they inflicted Klopp’s last (league) defeat at
Anfield as well (albeit more than three years ago). Even last year they gave us a right
old scare before we scraped over the line in a rollicking 4-3 win.
But win we did last year. And I predict we’ll do so again. It’ll be hard fought and
nail-biting for the packed crowd of, er, none. We’ll need to come from behind (this
is Liverpool, we don’t do things the easy way. Even with a 25 point lead we managed
to end up in a situation where the whole season could have been null and voided).
But we’ll eventually shake off the rust and do it. 2-1! Mane equaliser and Bobby to
get the winner in front of the (not very full) Kop to put us on the brink of ending
thirty years of hurt. To put us on that final march to Manchester. After which, when faced with a board saying “hpiancosm” in my final Countdown round I’ll know what nine letter word that spells. CHAMPIONS!
unless Super Frankie Lampost* goes and steals our thunder by beating them first
** My wife’s humorous nickname*** for Lampard
*** The Lampost bit. She has never called him Super to the best of my knowledge.