Sunday, 17th September 2000
Arrived over an hour early thanks to over efficient trains; an unlikely event I know. Pouring through the match program my wife nearly gives me a coronary by shrieking "They're selling the home tickets for Walsall today!".
With bleeding ears and vocally greasing a few of the steward's palms I managed to escape from the stadium and get some tickets. Grumbling profusely about the lack of communication with regards to ticket availability, lack of people on the phones and a website worthy of a five year old, I shelled my hard earned couple of ponies and grizzled all the way back to my seat.
The players came onto the pitch and I was in euphoria once more. No Lampard marred our side, but we still had an incredibly strong team. The ever increasingly fit and growing in confidence Shaka was between the sticks. A back three comprising of Messrs Ferdinand, Stimac and Psycho Pearce. Playing with wingbacks we had Tricky Trev on the right and Winterburn covering the left. Lomas and Carrick in holding midfield roles with Joey Cole sitting behind our two front men for the day King Kanoute and of course the deity aka Paulo Di Canio.
The self-confessed masochist-cum-sadist (and referee) David Elleray blew to
get the game under way. From the outset it was a midfield battle. Liverpool were chasing every ball and closing us down with very little breathing space; a mouse couldn't swing a mouse round out there.
Heskey was winning the aerial battle up front for Liverpool. Long balls were finding his head every time, even from the keeper Westerveld.
Our passing and control was put to shame all over the park. We couldn't string more than three passes together, but then neither could Liverpool.
As usual we looked very dangerous outside their 18yd box. Little shimmies, darting runs and some fancy footwork. The only problem was that there was rarely anyone to receive a cross because they were wrapped up in the trickery on the ball. By the time the ball got into the six yd box, eight orange Liverpool shirts and the keeper were there to mop up. Even Danny Murphy one of the Liverpool strikers was getting back to help out.
It was from one of these spells of pressure from us when the devastating counter happened. A ball played quickly up field and we were on the back foot. A terrific (I hate to say it) run down the left wing and devastating cross saw Steven Gerrard duly convert.
If it wasn't tight enough already, Liverpool closed up and killed the game. Now enjoying their one goal lead they sauntered for every ball with Elleray continuously telling them to get on with it.
Lomas went down like a sack of spuds after colliding with Rio. After a few minutes of praying for Adam Newton to make his entrance and not Peacock, the
argument was settled with Lomas recovering and looking on the warpath.
Half time came and you could have heard a pin drop through out the park. We didn't deserve to be losing, but we were, yet again.
Each of our players with their very own stick of dynamite duly inserted and
lit by Mr Rednapp we came out in more of a fighting mood. After five minutes of getting nowhere our enthusiasm dwindled yet again with Liverpool insisting on killing the game. We were constantly pushing to get out of our own half; we still seemed to lack the control and passing ability we all know that the players possess.
An incredible back pass to Shaka was waved on by Elleray. This, a couple of
shakey corner decisions (on our part of course) and the odd cry for hand-ball were the only blemishes on the referee's game. He allowed play to flow very well and kept total control. A funny incident with Stuart Pearce where the ref goes for his pocket after a rash challenge by the ex England defender. A harsh glare from Psycho and the ref puts his card away (although I am sure there was more to it than that).
Not content with his theatrical stigma, Di Canio rode four challenges getting up and battling on before the last man brought him down. The Liverpool man was duly booked. Shame it wasn't in the penalty area, but as PDC said with much hilarity in his recent article "shot in the back by a defender with a gun. 'Is that a penalty, ref?' he gasps, his dying words, before roaring with laughter at the twist when the referee books him for diving as he is carted off to the mortuary."*
Back to the game and a lovely through ball sees Kanoute with only the keeper to beat inside the penalty box. Everyone's hearts in their mouths at our most glowing chance we plead that he doesn't Wanchope it. Brought down from behind the expectancy and burden falls to our beloved Italian star. He does the business with relative ease (flash git) and draws us level to 1-1.
The game opens up temporarily for ten minutes as we start to carve our way back up field for a second and a winning goal; a repeat of the last five minutes against Manchester United is on everybody's mind. Liverpool, however, seemingly content with a draw away from deny us on every count, closing us down, taking their time and killing off the game yet again.
An unhappy 1-1 draw as we desperately needed a win. Our young stars did not
shine but then neither did anyone else. This was by far our worst performance yet but in fairness if that is as bad as it gets then I'll be more than content.
We need to give someone an absolute drubbing before our confidence goes through the floor. Bring on Walsall, bring on Coventry and we can show them what an awesome side we really are.
* Taken from 'Some hate me, some love me, some think I'm crazy. Sometimes
I'm kind, sometimes I'm angry.' The Premiership's great entertainer Paolo Di Canio
takes time out to talk to Amy Lawrence
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