Brendan Rodgers promised eventual “death by football” early in his Anfield reign, but it’s Liverpool’s manager who is quickly digging his own grave.
Consecutive home games against Norwich City and Carlisle United were supposed to provide the platform for Rodgers to demonstrate the “risk” that has become his latest mot du jour. If this was the perfect opportunity to click Liverpool’s season into gear, they’re still sat on the drive. Rodgers is turning the ignition to a worrying clunking sound while black smoke comes out of the engine.
Liverpool fans will each have their own opinion on the exact moment they knew Roy Hodgson was doomed at Anfield, but the England manager’s pre-match assessment of League Two Northampton Town may be a popular answer.
“They’ll be a formidable challenge,” Hodgson said, and Liverpool promptly tumbled out. Wednesday marked five years and a single day since that night. The mood was far less mutinous, but the result almost identical. Almost. If Napoleon had his Waterloo and Roy had his Northampton, Brendan may have just avoided his Carlisle. The lingering feeling is that it will be a temporary stay of execution.
This was the third time since that wretched night that Liverpool have faced lower-league opposition at Anfield. Notts County forced extra-time, and Middlesbrough forced penalties. For so long it looked as if Carlisle might go one step further, only to be denied at the last by Adam Bogdan and some rotten penalty-taking.
One supposes that Rodgers, a man so soaked in optimism he would describe nuclear apocalypse as ‘a good chance for Earth to have a spring clean’, does not suffer from crises of confidence. Nevertheless, his Liverpool tenure is lurching even further into chaos whether he accepts it or not. His players are not performing in a manner which suggests they are fighting for their man.
If there was to be a flash of clarity for Rodgers, a single, epiphanous moment to symbolise just how much trouble he is in, watching Adam Bogdan get beaten at his near post by a League Two striker might just do it. Scorer Derek Asamoah is 34, currently on his fifth club in five countries over a six-year period.
Liverpool were dominant for almost all of the match, but that was below the bare minimum expectation of the evening. Rodgers, aware of the growing pressure, named a strong side including at least four of his five first-choice defenders. With Christian Benteke injured, Danny Ings was picked to lead the line. A chance to blow the cobwebs away; the spiders survive for another day at least.
Rodgers’ side had 47 shots in 120 minutes, but from the moment Carlisle equalised, neat attacking play soon became panicked desperation. I lost count of the times players shanked wide from unrealistic distances, but the three starting central defenders had 11 shots between them. Dejan Lovren’s late injury looks like it will keep him out of action for some time.
“It’s just going to be a matter of time until they can get the results to be rewarded,” was Rodgers’ insistence in the build-up to the game, but even a man knighted for his services to half-full seemed to be relying on hope rather than expectation. We can see your fingers crossed.
The most telling quote was yet to come: “There was the same feeling of anxiety when I first came in, but we went on to make Anfield a real fortress for us. Unfortunately, we are having to rebuild that again.”
This seems precisely Rodgers’ issue. He has had both time and money, two footballing comforts rarely afforded in tandem, and yet concedes that Liverpool’s mentality is back to square one. That’s a dangerous admission, inadvertent or otherwise.
Like Andy Townsend, Cadbury’s Fuse bars and childhood, I think I’ll miss Brendan Rodgers when he’s gone. As “you’re getting sacked in the morning” reverberated around Anfield, complemented by the boos of the home support, it felt like his slide into unemployment was becoming irrevocable. Are these the last days of Brendanism?