Dominic King on a night
of frustration for the Reds
Comment by Dominic King - Liverpool Echo
Lonely Planet, the travellers’ bible,
recently published a list of the cities they deem to be the
in the world.
Along with places such as Los Angeles, Seoul and Accra,
Wolverhampton was plonked in at number five; in other words,
it’s a place they say you should avoid at all costs.
Rafa Benitez and his Liverpool players will know exactly why
Befitting the miserable metropolis they ventured to last
night, the Reds rustled up a charmless performance, much to
the consternation of those who witnessed it; just when you
think a corner has been turned, another dead end appears.
There can be no complaints that Liverpool left with just a
point to show for their ‘efforts’ nor can there be any
feelings they were hard done by; for all the talent they had
on the pitch, rarely did they threaten to impose their
quality on the game.
Yes, they battled and scrapped to avoid a defeat and matched
the relentless commitment of Mick McCarthy’s men but when
inspiration was needed, it was sorely lacking; as a result,
the season remains on a knife edge.
Liverpool might have crept up a place in the standings but
not even their biggest supporter could say they enhanced
their Champions League credentials in the process.
Such is the scrutiny Liverpool find themselves under these
days, even something as trivial as names on the teamsheet
see people searching to find conspiracy theories and hidden
agendas when well known names are absent.
The man to find himself the subject of pre-match chatter
here was, inevitably, Alberto Aquilani with sceptics
suggesting there must be a sinister reason why Benitez
picked the Italian as a substitute after an impressive
showing against Tottenham.
No matter that Benitez opted to begin with an attacking
line-up – Albert Riera retained his place, there was a first
start for Maxi Rodriguez with the fit-again Steven Gerrard
in between – all that was of interest was Aquilani’s
Crazy. There are far bigger things going on at Liverpool
than worrying about how and when Benitez chooses to use his
players but at least it is safe to say that he doesn’t get
sidetracked by those kind of issues in the run-up to a game.
His sole focus last night was overseeing another Liverpool
win to keep the momentum behind the sequence of results they
have steadily built up since getting the better of Wolves on
It was evident from the off that McCarthy’s idea was to
frustrate Liverpool, to squeeze the life out in the hope of
pilfering something on the break or from a set play, but it
was a dangerous game to play.
Or so you would have thought. While Riera went close with a
free header from Gerrard’s corner in the first minute, for
the rest of the contest they were pedestrian in their play,
a pale shadow of the side that had thrillingly dismantled
Spurs last Wednesday.
So frustrating. Wolves’ commitment could not be faulted but
they were making mistakes which should have been seized
upon, playing short balls across the defence to leave
sections of the home crowd gasping anxiously.
Clearly the contest was there for Liverpool to seize it by
the scruff of the neck, to impose themselves and show why
they feel they deserve to be favourites to snatch the fourth
Champion League spot but too often possession was
With temperatures plummeting and the atmosphere flat, this
was a contest crying out for someone to sprinkle some
stardust on it.
Nobody, however, was up to the task. Inspiration was in
short supply, particularly on the flanks where Riera,
despite showing occasional promise, ran down too many blind
alleys and Rodriguez found it all too much.
There is no disputing the Argentine has great quality – his
CV for Atletico Madrid and his national team screams out
that he is an A list performer – but the rat-a-tat-tat of
the Premier League in freezing conditions is a new
Patience will be required for him to show his best but the
problem he faces is that Liverpool’s perilous position
demands Rodriguez get up to speed in double quick time; it
will be intriguing to watch his development.
In fairness to the man from Santa Fe, he didn’t hide or
shirk the issue; what Rodriguez lacks in inches, he clearly
makes up for in heart and it was encouraging that he was
prepared to shoot from distance even when things were not
going his way.
But with the clock their enemy as much as Wolves and the
other sides chasing fourth place, Liverpool needed more than
just someone to try a speculative shot from outside the box
– they needed poise, panache and pressure.
Watching them labour made for uncomfortable viewing. That,
though, is Liverpool this season. Great displays one week,
guff the next, say what you like about them but they are
As long as it stays like this, the more intolerable the
pressure surrounding them will become; humping the ball
forward in search of a goal, as they did here, betrays the
pass and move ethos that is synonymous with the club.
On the occasions when Liverpool did manoeuvre themselves
into a position in the final third, their attempts to
fashion the chance to make a difference were stymied by a
wall of old gold shirts. Wolves deserved their point and
Yet when it was over, both Benitez and Gerrard were quick to
stress positives. Nothing was lost, a point was gained and
another shutout was recorded; that said, both are canny
Suffice to say they know improvement must come in the
pursuit of paradise.
on Juve switch talk
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is
remaining tight-lipped over reports linking him with a shock
switch to Italian giants Juventus.
Following the goalless draw at Wolves, Benitez refused to
comment on speculation suggesting Juve are about to sack
coach Ciro Ferrara.
The Spaniard saw his side miss out on the chance to put
pressure on the Premier League top four after a shot-shy
performance in which they failed seriously to test Wolves
keeper Marcus Hahnemann.
Benitez, when asked about the Juventus link, said: "I prefer
to talk about the game. Is the speculation a distraction? I
was really focused today on trying to do the right things
and to try and win this game.
"Is being linked with Juventus flattering? I prefer to
concentrate on the game."
Benitez accepted a share of the spoils was a fair result,
with his side dominating the opening 45 minutes before
Wolves came more into the game after the break.
He said: "If you analyse the game, it was a fair result. In
the first half, we were in control, although we didn't
create chances. The final pass in the final third was the
"In the second half, they pushed harder. We still had some
good counter-attacks but again the final pass was the
difference. It was a fair result."
The big plus for Benitez was the return of skipper Steven
Gerrard, who completed the 90 minutes after missing two
games with a hamstring problem.
Benitez believes a fit Gerrard will be crucial to the Reds'
hopes of breaking back into the Champions League positions.
He said: "We know Steven is a key player for us. He has to
improve his match fitness. But, if he is fit and can train
properly in the week and play games, he can make the
difference for us."
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy believes his players were well
worth the point that took them to the 20 mark for the season
in their battle to stay in the top flight.
And he praised the performance of striker Kevin Doyle, who
operated as the only frontman in a revamped 4-5-1 formation.
He said: "If you see a better performance from a
centre-forward than Doyle showed tonight, I would like to
"If he had just managed a goal, it would have been one of
the best all-round performances. He is physically strong
enough to play that role.
"We changed the system and I don't think our keeper had a
save to make. I don't think we were troubled.
"It was a really solid performance and it's great to get off
19 points because we've been there for too long."
Gerrard: We'll keep fighting
By Paul Eaton - LFC Official Website
Steven Gerrard has spoken of his delight
at being back in action - and insisted Liverpool have turned
the corner in their battle to claim a top four place.
The Liverpool skipper completed all 90 minutes of the Reds'
goalless draw at Wolves on Tuesday night as Rafael Benitez's
side moved into fifth place in the league table.
Although not the victory the Reds craved in the Midlands,
Gerrard believes there were enough encouraging signs over
the course of the match to suggest the team are heading in
the right direction.
"It was a frustrating and difficult game tonight," he said.
"Wolves defended well and the pitch was difficult to string
passes together on.
"We're happy with how we defended as a team and that's four
or five games undefeated for us now. We're a more difficult
team to beat at the moment. Earlier in the season we'd have
lost this game 1-0 but we've turned the corner now.
"We will keep fighting for this fourth place. We've a couple
of home games to play now and if we can keep the momentum
going and take maximum points then we'll edge into the top
"If we keep battling and keep defending as we have been then
results will follow.
"There are a lot of people in the dressing room who are hurt
at seeing us lying in seventh and eighth position and you
learn a lot from these situations when times are hard.
"We have looked at each other and we want to put it right.
The most important thing for me over the last four games has
been the character and the desire the players have shown.
"As captain, that gives me major confidence as you know the
good performances are around the corner if the solid base is
there. Nobody is hiding and that's a big positive."
Gerrard, meanwhile, reported no reaction to the hamstring
injury which has sidelined him for the past couple of weeks.
"It's great to be back, but just disappointing we didn't win
the match," he said. "It's good to be back in the group
again and I'm just looking forward to the next game now.
"The physios said I'd be out for two or three weeks when I
had the scan, but I have healed quickly and there were no
problems with the hamstring tonight, so I'm really pleased."
Rafa finds positives in draw
By Elliot Ball - Sky Sports
Rafa Benitez treated Liverpool's goalless
draw with Wolves as a positive result despite falling off
the pace for a UEFA Champions League berth.
The Reds had the chance to return to the top four for the
first time since September providing results went their way
ahead of their clash against relegation-battling Wanderers
on Tuesday night.
But even with the return of fit-again talisman Steven
Gerrard, the Merseysiders' toothless display saw maximum
points elude them and leave them trailing Tottenham by three
points in the race for fourth place.
"I think it was a tough game in the first half," admitted
Benitez to Sky Sports.
"We were more in control in the second half, they were
pushing (for a goal). It was a tough game for both (sides)
and maybe the result is fair.
"I think it (the draw) is positive - we kept a clean sheet
and you can see the team was working very hard and everybody
is working for everyone."
The game saw Benitez make two changes to the team that beat
top-four rivals Spurs with skipper Gerrard and new-boy Maxi
Rodriguez handed starts for the Molineux trip.
But neither player left their mark on the game, with Gerrard
- returning from a hamstring injury - looking particularly
rusty but the Reds boss was happy with the duo's
performances in the draw.
But Benitez reckons Gerrard will be back on top form very
"It was positive for us that he was available, you can see
that he has to improve his match fitness but it's a question
of time," the Spaniard said.
And on Rodriguez's role he added: "He can give us more
competition for each position and that is also good because
we have problems in the wide areas."
hinder Reds' charge
By Elliot Ball - Sky Sports
Liverpool's quest for a top-four finish
hit a stumbling block as Wolves claimed a precious point in
their survival bid in a scrappy goalless draw at Molineux on
The Reds were looking to close in on a UEFA Champions League
position with maximum points against a side who had lost
their last three matches and failed to score in as many
Rafa Benitez, whose agent has played down reports linking
the Spaniard with a move to Juventus, named an attacking
line-up with talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard back in the
line-up after overcoming a hamstring injury while recent
signing Maxi Rodriguez made his full debut on a cold night
in the West Midlands.
Despite Liverpool's positive team selection, it was the
hosts who created the best chances on the night as the
tireless Kevin Doyle stabbed a shot a yard the wrong side of
the goal before Kevin Foley missed a close-range header in
the first half.
Mick McCarthy's side, who remain 17th despite the important
point, faced a late onslaught from the visitors but Ronald
Zubar's almost solo mission to deny the Merseysiders proved
Liverpool, who move up to fifth ahead of Manchester City on
goal difference, may rue their toothless display in the
Black Country come the season's finish and they now trail
Tottenham by three points after they beat Fulham.
It was the visitors, who had taken 10 points from the
previous four games, who were quickest into their stride in
the opening stages of the match.
Gerrard's second minute corner was met by the head of Albert
Riera at the near post but his effort flashed across the
Dirk Kuyt, bubbling with confidence after his double against
Tottenham, tried his luck from 20 yards out but Jody
Craddock was able to make an important block.
Reds goalkeeper Jose Reina was booed every time he touched
the ball by Wolves fans who remembered his part in the
incident when Stephen Ward was sent off at Anfield on Boxing
Liverpool enjoyed the lion's share of possession but Wolves
coped comfortably and the best chance of the opening half
fell to Doyle after 33 minutes in a counter-attack.
Jamie Carragher was isolated in the right-back role and
unable to prevent Matt Jarvis from getting past him and
sending in a low cross to the near post.
Doyle made a run across the Reds defence to attack the ball
at the near post but poked his shot just wide.
Jarvis was posing the biggest threat for Wolves and another
teasing centre picked out the run of Foley at the far post
but his header was directed straight at Reina.
Christophe Berra got in a great challenge to halt the run of
Rodriguez into the Wolves box at the expense of a corner
just before half-time.
Gerrard was a peripheral figure for most of the first half
but threatened after the restart when he seized onto a ball
in behind from Lucas Leiva only for Berra to be alert to the
Marcus Hahnemann had to be alert when back-pedalling to palm
away a looping first time effort from the edge of the area
Ward then almost played the home team into trouble with a
mis-timed back pass but Hahnemann raced 20 yards out of his
box to clear from Kuyt.
Doyle was impressing whenever Wolves ventured forward but
would have been disappointed not to hit the target after he
found some space outside the box.
Wolves were playing with increasing fluency and the belief
was starting to grow amongst their young players.
Kuyt curled a 20-yard shot past the post after Gerrard
enjoyed some rare freedom and the game was more of an
Benitez made his first substitution after 67 minutes with
David Ngog replacing Riera and Kuyt moving into a wider
The impressive Doyle drilled a left-foot shot past the post
after getting past Martin Skrtel.
Skrtel was booked after 73 minutes for a lunge at Ward
before McCarthy replaced Nenad Milijas with David Jones a
Liverpool huffed and puffed but lacked any sort of
penetration to unlock the Wolves defence and whenever they
came into a shooting position, like Gerrard did in stoppage
time, the Reds players were crowded out to a valiant home
defence who kept their first league clean sheet since
beating Burnley mid-December.