Brighter and braver.

At least there was a little spite: we need that.  Glenda may have accused England of being ‘too lacksadaisical’ – rightly – after 15 minutes but there had already been some sense that, yaknow, this was England v Scotland.  There was more panic than savagery but it felt relatively spicyRelatively.

Scotland started brighter and braver.  My guess is that this was partly because Strachan’s simply entered shit-or-bust mode – his attacking line-up being more about his own mania than genuine consideration of English defensive weakness.  The Pinks (say what?!?) were nevertheless appropriately pumped… and swift… and (almost) incisive.

England, though, looked weak in defence.  Stones again tried hard to stroll but merely gave his colleagues either palpitations, or shocking passes, during an early period of Scots dominance.  For someone so brilliant, he was bloody awful – but he did recover at least some of that Coolly Ambling Geezer thing.

The single moment of quality in a first half largely characterised by clumsiness, abstractedness and weirdly open spaces in central midfield was a stunning goal by Sturridge.  Sturridge who had looked likely to disappear in the frenetic mediocrity all around.

The Liverpool man seems not to be one either for The Battle or the kind of Route One (Aerial) Scene this fixture seemed to be building – or un-building towards. But when England finally shifted the ball with purpose wide to the right then in, he stooped to flash a thrilling header home.

Neither Sturridge nor Rooney made a single other contribution of any significance in the half:  Sterling was mixed and wasteful but he was present in a way most were not.  Could just be me but the sight of Rose throwing himself to the floor in the opposition box late in that first period summed up something unsatisfactory about the general fare.  It was competitive but often almost shockingly amorphous.  Other than that gem – the goal.

After the break Scotland ran rings around England before being cruelly stung by Lallana’s flicked header.  Brown, Snodgrass, Griffiths and the willing but limited Fletcher – I say that principally in relation to his almost complete lack of goal threat, which again was notable tonight – were bypassing or bustling around England… but to no effect.  There were periods (early in both halves) where, had Scotland scored, the evening could really have turned traumatic for Mr Southgate.  England really could have got beat tonight.

Miraculously, the Auld Enemy failed to convert half a dozen clear cut chances.  Most of these were more about lack of awareness than misplaced shooting boots.  The lurid pink shirts seemed mysteriously elusive when colleagues broke into Hart’s danger zone: incredibly, almost, nobody played anybody in.  Strachan must have tempted to bring himself on in search of a composed final pass.

When England went 2-up, they probably deserved to be 2-1 down.  When Cahill (who like his central partner Stones had been everything from scarily bad to inconsistent) notched the third with a simple header, the game was up, smothered – along with natural justice.  England had been powerfully unconvincing in defence, strangely dysfunctional, sometimes absent in midfield and sporadically deadly up top. All of Stones, Cahill, Henderson, Dier, Rooney, Sterling and Sturridge plainly underachieved, yet the scoreboard read 3-0.

Henderson and Dier are limited and one-paced players with the limited remit of the deep-lying midfielder to protect them.  Yet too often the porous centre of the England defence was exposed, suggesting they either have inadequate noses for danger or, perhaps, too many instructions jangling round their craniums.  Surely their prime motive as soon as the ball is lost should be to deny space?  Keep it simple, keep your shape?

Rooney was again ineffective for the most part.  This may have been because (for me) Sturridge makes too few darting or threatening runs, shows too infrequently, particularly when games are tight and physical.  (He wins relatively few high balls too, incidentally – again reducing the possibility for drama/momentum/sudden goal threat.)  If nothing’s happening in front of you, you (as a midfielder) tend to pass without meaning or penetration – sideways.

This does not entirely account for Rooney or Henderson or Dier’s ordinariness tonight.  They need surely to mix the tempo and commit to runs, to add value to the possession they inevitably have?  Lallana did this stuff better – but then again he can sprint, and seems to like to sprint forward into space to receive or invite the pass.

A note on Sterling.  He was almost embarrassingly, distractedly, greedily, boyishly poor in the second half.  So poor words must be said.  It might be that he is something of a vulnerable soul, so Southgate or his successor might need to exercise some skill and sensitivity when dealing with this talented young man.  Either that or tell him to pass the fucking thing.

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Estonia.

So a swift verdict.

(Mid-evening last night, I’m thinking) this is not a night to have a right old go at Hodgson, Rooney or anyone else. Things – black and white things like tables and like plans – are ‘on track’. Mind you, I hope Roy did have a go at his players after a performance we’d all surely plonk confidently in the medium lame category.

One-nil against a poor team playing with a man short for half an hour or so? Hardly inspiring but that’s how it was. Save a thought for Roy’s White Army trudging back to trains planes and automobiles, or hopefully friendly bars, feeling they needed a bloody sharp glass of Estonian hooch to reboot slightly dulled and yes, disappointed minds. You’d need some top quality banter or booze or camaraderie – remember that? – to haul back this particular adventure from the brink of the flattish.

But look results just don’t always tell the story, right? A reasonable judgement – remember that! – might be that England weren’t actually poor (being too generally comfortable on the ball now) but the result is. Relatively. They ‘failed to execute’, there was a general lack of a gear-change about the performance – in part I would argue due to selection – but also because Wellbeck in particular rarely sprinted to any purpose. England were kinda sluggish yet largely competent… except when within thirty yards of the Estonian net.

One or two things do concern me, however; let’s start with Lallana.

The word itself smacks of slightly exotic fluency and this is what us purists hope the Liverpool man may deliver, smoothing the pathway forward from that old angular, muscle-bound past into a slick, balletic future.

But because he’s never going to dominate proceedings (‘cos of that cool, minimal-contact, slinky-intelligence thing he’s got goin’ on) Lallana must influence by either linking to effect, or providing assists. And he needs to do that especially against poor teams who need opening up. Failed tonight. He has to take his opportunities because he is more droppable than somebody less gifted (Henderson/Delph?) because of this non-combative essence. In tonight’s game Lallana wasn’t the chief disappointment but he may need to start scoring or threading dream passes pretty urgently.

Wellbeck had a poor game, I thought. In the context of that opposition, think about it. It felt another example of how players just fail to sense when their moment is come. If the universe hasn’t spoken loudly enough to Danny, let me, on all of our behalves, re-iterate. NOW IS THE TIME for you to chase down your destiny – or at least chase round the park. Chase! Sprint and pressure without the ball and sprint and offer and give and spin and strike with all your might when you have it. Go right past urgent into ABSO-LUTELY ON FIRE; because when you’re at full throttle (by that I mean really racing down the inside/outside channels or attacking the ball in the box) you’re actually fairly tasty. Go do that.

Wellbeck surely must have been told to turn and get them legs a-pumpin’? Drive at people rather than simply jog through the game, back to goal. Estonia would surely be somewhere between static and clueless? Like Rooney though, his touch was often too sloppy to achieve the ‘I could play fer Barca, no probs’ level he no doubt (we no doubt) dream(s) of. Consequently instead of scaring the life out of very ordinary defenders, he pootled, he under-achieved – significantly.

Let me stick with this for one more moment. To say that yes I know I’m on the one hand suggesting Ingerland play more like Germany (say) and on the other I’m bawling at the centre-forward to leg it round the place. Well yes… and no…

A) Wellbeck is a particular case because he can hurt the opposition with his sprinting power and he under-uses that strength. B) We are of course aiming to be both comfortable and composed in possession AND rip-roaringly dynamic around their box. C) I do slightly fear that even our leading players are so busy projecting a Messi/Iniesta/Muller into their own footballing presence that they almost forget to be themselves and play. D) We aren’t good enough to merely cruise and ‘be patient’. In no way do I single out Wellbeck for some spurious blame here; it’s just his lack of awareness re this urgency that seemed comment-worthy.

Rooney was allegedly ‘involved in everything’ and yet for much of the time he was dispiritingly awful. In cruise mode, like Wellbeck, only marginally sloppier. Clunky touches and ill-judged passes; ordinary finishing. Even his goal was from such a conservatively struck free-kick that a genuine international keeper might have kept it out. (I thought Rooney’s muted celebration suggested that – as though in mild surprise and embarrassment that a strike so gently and obviously coaxed towards that post should beat the goalie’s belatedly grasping palms). Quite rightly, moments before, Hodgson had his skipper lined up for the hoik: following the goal, he stayed.

Elsewhere England did their jobs/saw out the game. Wilshere was perhaps most notable; he flashed in a few choice passes and he did try to vary things. Importantly, he wanted the ball. The feeling remains, however, that his singular lack of pace and a certain lack of immediacy must be compensated for elsewhere. England had the game sewn up from start to finish but (no-brainer) one goal is never enough. There was an absence of threat – even against ten – and this needs looking at. Was the blend wrong or did players simply not perform?

Brief word on today’s Sterling story – that he pulled out ‘tired’.  If the manager has put this into the public arena in order to keep the squeeze on his players – i.e. demand complete commitment to the cause – then fair enough.  I’m no loony patriot but important to keep egos and apathy in check.  Also fair enough to drop him to the bench.  Plainly Sterling’s form is way down on last year and tiredness – mental, particularly? – is likely a factor.  No need to be punishing anyone here… but a marker laid down, in my view and a warning that urgency and passion should be non-negotiables.

Finally I offer some ratings… because other folks are… and it gives us all something to argue about.

Hart – 6. Another night where judgements are ludicrous; had nothing meaningful to do. His distribution was slightly mixed but this may be partly down to a lack of dynamic movement in front of him.

Chambers – 6. Offered himself and did okay but no better. Untested due to lack of a threat from the opposition but if I was pushed I would say not ready for major internationals yet.

Cahill – 7. Almost uniformly composed and rightly happy to mix it (within reason) when his oppo’ barged and banged. Limited distribution and under-achieves in terms of goals scored from dead-ball situations but if he stops their attackers attacking fair enough. He cruised through this… in a good way.

Jagielka – 6. Almost completely surplus, in a sense, such was the lack of penetration from Estonia. Honest, relatively aware,solid enough. In his comfort zone but who wouldn’t be, playing against no-one.

Baines – 6. Again another night when you expect him to have a whole lot of fun raiding down the left… passes by. A waste but impossible to know how much of this is down to the player’s ongoing slump and how much to calls from the bench to be ‘responsible’.

Wilshere – 7. Possibly England’s best player. Liked the variety/want more care and yes, more urgency. He’s good enough to treasure the ball and hurt teams with it.

Delph – 5. Disappointing. Can hardly remember a telling contribution. Subbed.

Henderson – 6. Decent night but no better than that. Couldn’t find a killer pass/didn’t always strike the easy ones well.

Lallana – 6. Can’t afford many performances where critics or fans can use words like ‘wafted’ or ‘barely affected’. He must know things conspire against anybody (from Hoddle forwards) who can be dropped into the ‘luxury player’ category.

Rooney – 6. Busy-ish but unconvincing; sluggish. Missed guilt-edged chances/was wasteful too often with possession. Hope Hodgson is telling him his place is not guaranteed. Even if it is.

Wellbeck – 6. Snuffed out his own after-burners.

To hoof not thread.

Part of me wishes – honestly – that Jack Wilshere would just go out and have a few beers and smokes and be him. Then bundle his way past a protesting Woy-in-a-wight-lather (okay, cheap but doncha just kinda resent that flustering pomp thing Hodgson’s got going?) and on to absolutely dismember some half-tasty international opposition. Singlehandedly. In a tournament game. With little flip passes from the outside of his left boot. Threading DNA molecule-like clusters of wall-pass-to-the-power-of no-no-no-he can’t- YEE-EESSSSAA like some cack-handed and slightly boozy Fabregas. But then part of me wishes he would just give in to his fate as a perennial crock; put us out of our misery; break all available limbs in a rash challenge leapfrogging a bollard outside some niteklub in Prague and have done with it. We deserve that, surely – to be put out, right out, of our misery?

This billowing pro and contra emotion around Wilshere is all about… what? When did it start?

In the very beginning something about him stirred us. When he first dinked a tiddlywink of hope into our Ovaltine. When he first semi-loped (can small blokes lope?) and semi-swaggered onto the park in the white of England. We some of us sat bolt upright on the couch for the first time since the Wicker Man. We put away the bedtime drink and reached for a cool beer. In Wilshere it looked like we’d finally found one.

Not only did he have that slightly retro Landun schoolboy(ish) confidence fing abart ‘im – the whiff of catapults in playgrounds or blotting paper splatted expertly into the khazi ceiling, or fizzing past teacher’s ear, he oozed, crucially, excitingly, with what we tend to lamely call ‘culture’. He was so comfortable in possession there seemed little doubt he might actually actually express that higher thing, that football. But perhaps the binary peaks in our relationship with this phantom tightened early around the simple unpatriotic truth; that his was a Spanish Stroll, surely and this was therefore unlike us? It was likely better than us, better than the turgid precedent for tarnished gold but could it prosper in the Three Lions kit?

Plainly with Jack the potential was there to burst exhiliratingly through the fusty limits of what had been us into something better and – please god – more competitive. That caressing of the traditionally renegade sphere, that invented time and space, that fifteen yard passing range, that coolness in the clamour. He spoke of other worlds, of brave new everythings where Ingerland played – competed – with Alonso/Xabi/Schweinsteiger. Momentarily, he really did. At the end-stop of our fifty-year deathlike dearth, it just seemed possible that we might have one but experience having traumatised us, we waited quietly.

We waited and symbolically or otherwise the poor lad got crocked. No – he actually did get crocked – for a living, it seemed. Season after season. In practical terms the granddaddy Gerrard simply dropped a gear and the axis with Lampard persisted – hopelessly – and the national side of Ingerland went on being the national side of Ingerland; woeful; emasculated; subtle as an air-raid; dense as a docker’s sandwich. From before Sven to Fabio to Roy we all traversed together the saddening terrain from one cliché of a failure to the next, with all of it predicated on that raw inability to treasure the ball – to hoof not thread.

With every fibre Wilshere enacted his understanding of – his protestation against – that dumbness. But he was never there, or he never had ‘a run at it’ – injuries gnawing away at both his momentum and our belief. With every absence, with every ‘lay-off’ for the ῠber-Gooner we the resigned flopped out again with another miserable beer and more carcinogenic snacks. Rather than being the pivot at international level, the boy barely featured.  Cruel.

At Arsenal too Wilshere flitted and flattered, his Wenger-approved neatness and penchant for centrality being only sporadically key to their easy, double-clutched movement. Like his club though, there was maybe was/is something one-paced about his game; pleasing mid-gears, so much fluent transition but a lack (alack!) of murderous high-voltage. But I find myself in the past tense…
The possibilities for England still  include saviourhood/irrelevance/absence through injury. As always, availability for selection will define things.
The juicy prospect of a critical role at the rear point of a midfield diamond aired itself recently. Given that Sterling of Liverpool featured at the prow of this formation, a Gor Blimey tingle ran through some of us. We all know (and I imagine even Hodgson knows) that Jackie Boy is happiest asking questions of a central defender thirty/forty yards from goal. However, his brilliance at collecting and feeding and moving and threading with bodies around him equips him beautifully for the (deeper) Let’s Get This Baby Movin’ role too. He is good enough to not just carry the metaphorical water but also the expectation. He is close to England’s finest at (say it again) treasuring the ball and building a threat. So let him have a whole lump of possession and (with Sterling at 10 in front) the other buggers better watch out.

That the blend, the detail of this is still palpably unsorted by the England hierarchy tells us plenty, I would argue, about Hodgson’s lack of foresight. Henderson suddenly appears to be a nailed-on starter and this perhaps alleviates some of the fears around Wilshere’s lack of focus defensively-speaking. Much depends on how much width and creativity (or constriction and ‘control’) the wider two of the four diamond players are asked to provide. Sterling has already earned the right – ahead of Rooney, incidentally – to be the free spirit taunting the space immediately in front of the opposition centre-backs. Does this really mean that we have to be (as it were) culturally cautious elsewhere to allow for this luxury?

Hodgson may feel that he has to ‘protect’ our admittedly ordinary back four by opting for durability more than creativity but how ‘bout he told the defence to grow some and the essence of the diktat became about us with the ball? How ‘bout he/we stopped to count the number of defenders in his side and concluded that two of them probably don’t have to mark anybody for eighty percent of the game? And Gary Neville demanded intelligent pressing and brilliant – international level brilliant – defending with or without a shield?

In other words rather than denying expressivity in our own team by selecting surplus minders in our midfield could we not trust those who can really play to play? Huh?

Qualification for the next major tourney should be straightforward enough now following a good win in Sitzerland.  Hodgson has the slack he needs to be positive, to mould a brighter way forward.

The Spanish Era may be over but not in the sense that it remains clear (now and always) that quality of touch/vision/passing are the keys. Not how or if you ‘can tackle’. Not capacity to perspire in the name of the shirt (even.) Quality of touch and the presence and confidence to play and treasure the ball is it.

Wilshere if fit (yawn!) must play central. He could play deepish and own the team strategy. He could. He could blossom and so could the new generation. They could. But the fear remains that he simply won’t get the chance. Because his ankles seem knackered and the culture – our culture, not his – still works against him.

How brave?

Earworm du jour is Dreaming, by Blondie. Not sure if I’ve even heard it today but whatever, blame BBC Radio 6, who have been touting Her Relentless Gorgeousness whilst I’ve been battling through chores. There’s something both triumphal and powerfully sharp about Harry’s vocal on this but it does also – I suppose primarily through that dreamy chorus – take us somewhere pleasantly, sleepily lush with yearning. Which brings me to football.

I can imagine Roy Hodgson tapping a toe, albeit absently to Dreaming, whilst cogitating on pressing strategic issues – team shape, perhaps? Perhaps the insidious brilliance (and crucially the winning-ness) of that sassy Blondie formula is somehow transferable to a certain upcoming football venture? Could Roy, like Debs and Chris, limewash his own parallel line to fame and glory by stepping a touch left of the dumb certitudes around no-brainer mainstream practice? Could he play a little fast, loose and punky with his own creative possibilities? Or will he stick with his Phil Collins? This appears to be the question.

So how brave is Roy? How burdened with responsibilities? How protective in a conservative way of his own legacy and the ‘reputation’ of English football – or rather of England the football team? How much dare he do?
And are we about to find out? Will Hodgson suddenly tear holes in his t-shirts and spike up his barnet with his beer-soaked fingers? Will he gob copiously during the national anthem? Hardly. The suggestion is that for tonight’s friendly against a weakish and unconvincingly surrogate Uruguay Roy will keep the tartan bondage trousers in that dressing up cupboard. But the tease is that folks generally, though aware that little will be revealed tonight, think and hope that he might – he just mi-ight – be preparing to plump for something high-octane come Brazil.

There is a career full of evidence to the contrary, ‘tis true. Roy’s very being speaking much more of supremely bland intelligence than White Punks on Dope rebellion. His footballing oeuvre ranges from a soporific mode to a calm but inoffensive expression of that central Roy/Phil Collinsness? So solid – no, let’s be fair – elite level percussive/structural heartbeat but godawful actual statement. If it wasn’t so crass and unforgivable – and if Roy was a musician – I’d recommend a hearty dose of amphetamines to spark the whole thing up. Which naturally if a little shoutinginthefacingly brings me to Sterling and Barker. And possibly Lallana. And co.

These are the boys most likely to, this time around, yes? The ones who might Liverpool us through to some cockle-warming (or who knows?) explosive moment that brings on that healthy fury that comes with winning with some style. Because I think it’s true that finally England supporters– fascinatingly, in the absence of real expectation – want more than anything else something positive and bold and stylish, even. A contribution that they can be proud of rather than a specific goal… like the trophy itself, or a semi-final slot. People want England to turn up and play some recognisably vital football. If that means ‘risking’ Barkley and Sterling and Lallana alongside yer Rooneys and yer Gerrads and yer Sturridges then so be it. Go an’ avago Roy!!

But Mr Hodgson is what? A relatively profound thinker, we imagine. Impenetrable, maybe? Skilled in diplomacy and to be fair, shrewd. Hard to read. Dull.

I’ve never been a huge fan, I have to say. Can accept that he was a sensible appointment but still think he fails at the first hurdle in that he seems unable to truly inspire; we’ve seen enough already to know that. He will find it difficult to free himself up sufficiently to liberate his players, to get them believing they really can, in that wonderfully evocative phrase take on the world’s finest. I can see that happening – but much more through a few seconds of fearlessness from an individual than through what we might call team policy.

As is always the case, players thriving or hiding in the challenge of the moment will control events as far as they can be controlled. However, Managers can contribute massively to how those moments feel. Managers provide the matrix of confidence or otherwise. My concern is that Hodgson may not be the man to either actually commit to a high-energy attacking game or genuinely let his players – encourage his players – to play without fear. His background, his force of habit and his body language all stand somewhat contrary to that aspiration. Is he not just too stiff a bloke to inspire Raheem Sterling, for example?

There may be clues tonight in the game v Peru. Clues about selection, energy, where the team seem to be re Brazil and more broadly speaking – because Brazil isn’t everything, right – it just feels like it?
I hope there are encouraging signs but this is a low-key game. It’s in Brazil where most of us want to see our lot go fly. Even if the climate allegedly mitigates against teams from the North and against playing with pace and energy. If we lose the ball, we’ll get back to a compact shape, rest and recover before nicking it back. Then the movement should be imaginative and (that word again) vital.

There’s a dog-turd of a lump of historical baggage here we can’t ignore. And yes even the young lads will be conscious of this. Despite the relatively ordinary standard of competition, England have been close to laughably poor at a whole series of recent international tournaments; offering nothing, then wilting. This one presents a special opportunity; a) because it’s Brazil; b) because England go there with less pressure than for decades, quite possibly and c) because everyone acknowledges things can’t go on like they have been. There is a consensus for change… and hang the consequences. Hodgson knows this.

So, how brave is he?

Triumph and tears.

Liverpool City. Had everything. Goals, sunshine, vitriol, clangers, minimal Yaya. Premier-quality cheating. It was splattered with incidents and raw with that uncomfortable mix of poignancy and venom. My response is loaded and maybe lumpen in the way of the match. It’s bullet-pointed again – immediate.

• I’m fascinated and appalled by Suarez to the point where I don’t really want to go there… and yet must. But not first. But been thinking about the man a fair bit. He’s plainly dysfunctional – yeh, I think that’s the word. Dysfunctional.
• Happier thoughts… Sterling’s opening goal. Was this so brilliant that it confirmed him as an England World Cup starter? Was that composure evidence of such fabulous growth in his game that he must leap to the front of the wide player’s queue? Many would think so. I’ve been and remain just a tad concerned that he may in that real moment – the bona fide competitive international game – shrink back into Walcott/Lennon(?)/Ox(?) mode. He has something of the junior flyer about him that concerns me but he was certainly influential in this the biggest game of the Premiership season so far. We know he would run at people in the World Cup but would he do it with real belief or would he be as inconsistent and ultimately wasteful as the eight zillion other Boy Wonders who have disappointed in recent times?
• Whatever, Sterling will go to Brazil (now) and he will probably (now) be ahead of the fella who’s got closest in the last season or two to delivering – Townsend. Once there I hope Sterling/Townsend will be encouraged to both hug the touchlines and dart central. In other words get involved/get plenty of precious touches/be influential.
• Sturridge will of course also travel. But which Sturridge? The sullen, frankly greedy geezer who makes too many bad football choices (because he’s greedy) or the unplayably good finisher who finishes so devastatingly often because… he’s greedy (for it?) Today he was ordinary – as he has been for the last month. Saving it up for Italy, hopefully.
• Incidentally I squirmed a little when I saw that bloke Clattenberg centre-stage today. He’s a little greedy for it too, is he not?
• Inevitably, there were ‘decisions.’ Clattenberg appeared to be avoiding making positive calls until the relative safety of the final few minutes, where he felt able to dismiss Henderson for his tired (o je-sus I can’t get… there) lunge. Marginal in the sense that there was no spite in the challenge but Henderson did jump in there with studs high. So red.
• Prior to this – count ‘em? – there were any number of appeals for pens, all turned away. Suarez, Silva and Zabaleta all ‘made the most’ of things. Suarez fell most obviously into the Shameful Outrage category and therefore he gets no sympathy from me for later incidents that may in isolation have been judged in his favour. I know that ain’t logical but a) that’s how us humans work –Clattenburg too? And b) the Uruguayan should have been red-carded for his most nauseatingly OTT effort.
• I do wonder if Suarez – who presumably believes himself innocent(?) – might think ‘bugger this feragameasoldiers lichke’ and actually go to Real, where he may think there is less outrage to contend with. (Plusses/minuses; La Liga refs and defences are even worse but things feel less judgemental.)
• I would miss ar Luis – about as much as Sturridge would, I reckon – though less than Liverpool FC. The number 7 is one of the best forwards in world footie… but one of the worst humans. He made the game ungovernable.
• Okay. I exaggerate.
• Final word. He’s magic but his ‘antics’ are a total, total disgrace. I think there is again a case for retrospective punishment or would be if the machinery was in place. (See ‘The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct’ vols 1-265).
• The game though; Liverpool were magnificent and irresistible again for most of the first half, playing both with authority and composure and also swiftly counterattacking. They mix it up; chase and run as well as pass all around. Generally though, they play with pace… and this feels threatening, especially with that crowd on board.
• That crowd by the way bore and bears them on, towards what Stevie G will no doubt privately be calling the title they deserve – they being the players, the club and supporters live and sadly departed. The skipper rightly gathered his men to collectivise spirits for the final push. They were told in no uncertain terms that there must be no ‘fucking slips’. The implications – powerful and maybe contradictory ones – being that the title belongs to them but they must battle invincibly to the fateful end.
• How wonderful that sport can be so huge.
• There are almost unbearably rich and tender emotions around the Hillsborough thing. The tragedy itself, the awful nature of events, plus the additional, cruel travesties which may yet transform how the majority of the (tabloid-reading?) public view our allegedly world-class police. There is much bitterness in this beautiful charge towards destiny.
• City came back. Silva suddenly flowered as Liverpool sat off. I lost a few friends on twitter by suggesting that the Reds wilted under the first meaningful pressure for 20 years – somewhat uncalled for perhaps but the point remains. The bitter enemy Manchester United have had to carry the burden of being title favourites and the team everyone wants to beat for an age. Liverpool dealt rather poorly with the rising threat to their first Premier League crown. City deserved to draw level and looked more likely to win it.
• Then, 80-odd minutes in, just about the finest defender in the league – Kompany – ballsed things up completely and Coutinho scored against the run of play.
• The rest was run-of-the-mill agony. For everyone.
• The roar at the final peep from Mr Clattenburg carried with it both triumph… and tears.