Talk about stepping up to the plate. On Tuesday night, it fell to us to extend Liverpool’s losing streak, which, as a result of our team’s supremely disciplined efforts from one end of the pitch to the other, now stretches all the way back to last Saturday.
Is talk of a crisis at Anfield premature? How could it ever be, from our point of view? The bare facts are that Liverpool haven’t won a match at all in March, are out of the FA Cup, and are clinging on by the skin of their teeth at the half-way stage of their Round of 16 Champions League tie, while their bid for a first top-flight title in two whole decades once seemingly assured, has now been thrown into uncertainty by the outbreak of (of all things) a global virus. These are clearly enormously worrying times to be a Liverpool supporter.
Let’s try to maintain at least a little perspective around this result, though – by which I mean, in particular, let’s be careful how we regard the Guardian newspaper headline which referred to Tuesday’s result as a ‘shock Cup defeat’. Was it, though? I know we’ve dropped a few points that we shouldn’t have recently, but that hardly makes us Forest Green Rovers all of a sudden, does it?
Does it qualify as a ‘Cup shock’ when the fourth best team in the country, playing at home, beats the best team in the country 2-0? It might just about count as something not entirely predicted by the form book, maybe. But, delighted though we all currently are, I don’t think it’s going down in history’s annals with, say, Fourth Division Colchester United’s defeat of Leeds in 1971, or even Bradford’s defeat of us a couple of seasons ago.
Still, no doubt we’ll always remember it fondly, and carry it with us through whatever remains of the 2019/20 campaign. For this was a performance that offered an array of cut-out-n-keep moments. And chief among them, of course, will be Ross Barkley’s goal. His 25-yard burst up the centre of the pitch capped by the 20-yard lash into the net has already swept all before it in the Goal of the Month competitions - and is possibly even nudging for inclusion in the Goal of the Season polls because surely you get extra points for doing this kind of thing while in the close company of 2019/20’s most efficient central defence.
Or what about that triple save by Kepa? Remarkable. Not even Simone Biles gets up and down that quickly. This was a restorative moment in a number of senses.
And then there was the bulging reel of highlights produced and packaged for the occasion by 18-year-old Billy Gilmour, who played as if he’s been disrupting Liverpool midfields at the top level since about 1983. Prominent among those feature moments would be that first-half tackle in the centre circle. You’ll remember the one. If we didn’t already have the word ‘crunching’ in our language, people would even now be meeting in academies to invent it.
But even that was possibly eclipsed by the moment in the second half when, with a little jink to the left, Gilmour sent Fabinho off on a one-man cat-herding expedition, stepped into the gap where the Liverpool player had once existed and sent a laser-honed pass directly into the penalty area to the on-running Olivier Giroud.
Our reward for these notable and potentially landscape-altering endeavours? Personally, I think that if you beat Liverpool in the FA Cup these days you should get to pick who you play in the next round and where you play them. Possibly you should even get to pick when you play them, the police and other authorities permitting. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that for some reason, and instead it was down to Chris Waddle and Martin Keown fishing for adapted snooker balls in a bucket, as usual. And that means we’ve ended up having to go back to Leicester in the quarter-finals.
Which could have been slightly better, I guess: a home tie would have been nice, or any kind of tie against one of the lower-league teams remaining in the competition, such as Arsenal. But I think we can also agree that it could have been a lot worse. So thanks, I suppose, to Chris and Martin, although a radical overhaul of that system is clearly long overdue.
So, onwards to Sunday and the Everton game. I was sad to realise that a recent end-of-match exchange with an exceptionally officious official means that Carlo Ancelotti may not be taking his expected place in the dug-out. If he doesn’t, I don’t know what his plans are, but he is welcome to join us in the Matthew Harding Upper for the match. Indeed, as a token of my gratitude and abiding respect for the man, I personally would willingly surrender my seat to him for this one and sit in the aisle, stewards permitting. (There’s a little well at the end of the row which means I wouldn’t technically be blocking the staircase.) Okay, the phone signal can be a bit wobbly up there, but I can promise our former manager an unobscured view of the action amid firm friends. The offer is there.