Norwich 2, Liverpool 3 – A Real Nail Biter

Firstly, let me begin by saying that as our magnificent run has developed and progressed, our expectations have changed dramatically. The goal posts have well and truly been changed. At the start of this season if anyone had said that we would qualify for an automatic Champions League spot four games before the end of the season, we would all have jumped at that chance of that opportunity happening.

Instead of a sub title saying “A Real Nail Biter” we would have expected a more celebratory statement. More of a euphoric – Superb!! Champions League Football Is Back!! But such is the ride we are being taken on at the moment, the prize has suddenly got much bigger. Top of the league with a five point lead with three games to go!! Wow, who would have expected this at the start of the season, or indeed as relatively recently as Christmas time.

We have, without any shadow of a doubt, been absolutely superb this season. The three Cup Finals left are title rivals, Chelsea at home, Crystal Palace away and our last game of the season on May 11th, at home to Newcastle United. Liverpool will be absolutely buzzing for the next two home games.

Manchester City, don’t forget, have that extra game in hand and of course, Chelsea will pose a huge threat next Sunday. Crystal Palace are on a great run themselves, so nobody is taking anything for granted. But often in football, momentum is a key factor in ultimately deciding outcomes.

For instance, most pundits thought Sunderland were dead and buried but then a draw at the Etihad (could have been three points) and a fantastic win at Stamford Bridge (take a bow Fabio Borini) has suddenly given all Mackems fresh hope. And of course they now have some momentum with them, so who would bet against them getting out of trouble?

In our situation, our victory against Norwich on Sunday was an illustration of how a team’s momentum can carry a team over the line. With the momentum we have, comes confidence. With confidence comes inner belief, that even in the face of sustained pressure or adversity, we will prevail. To say that Norwich gave us a run for our money is a huge understatement, but the eventual outcome of another 3-2 victory wasn’t so much expected but more of a case of no surprises that we ultimately hung on to gather another much needed three points.

Raheem Sterling gave us a fabulous start with an absolute corker of a goal on four minutes. How his game has developed and improved over the last six months. Many fans I know, even as recently as Christmas time, were writing him off saying that he will never make it. Admittedly there was an element of him often running down blind alleys and failing to deliver a telling final ball when he was used mainly as a wide player, so these negative verdicts were maybe not too far wide of the mark.

Brendan Rodgers clearly has faith in him and not only that, saw something in him that maybe not many others did. The transformation has been remarkable. How much of the team’s performances lifted him…or how much of his performances have lifted the team. The two scenarios go hand in hand it would seem. Many Liverpool fans were critical of our failure to strengthen the squad in January. If we had, would Sterling have been the one to make way for a new signing? Who knows. But one thing is for sure, let us give Brendan Rodgers the credit and the respect he deserves. That well worn fans cliche banner of “In Whoever We Trust” is so deserving in Brendan Rogers case. So let us not forget…”In Brendan We Trust!!”

Sterling’s thunderbolt goal oozed class and confidence. Liverpool a goal up within the first few minutes of a game as we have been so many times this season. Seven minutes later, Jon Flanagan brilliantly side-stepped a Norwich player on the halfway line, spotted Sterling’s brilliant run into space, played him in and now seeing Sterling in that sort of position a sense of expectancy arises instead of the previous thoughts of “bet his cross hits the first defender.” In other words, Sterling has now become a “bums off seats” player. Sure enough, he did not disappoint, as he delivered a sublime ball across the box to Luis Suarez, who didn’t have to break stride to simply guide the ball into the bottom right corner of John Ruddy’s net.

It was still a great finish by Suarez though. As the ball came in from Sterling from the left, who else would you want to see on the end of it. Liverpool 2-0 up within 11 minutes and seemingly cruising. But oh how the game was to change. For the rest of the half Liverpool seemed to play within themselves while Norwich huffed and puffed really. Their greatest threats were coming from the steadily growing list of needlessly conceded free kicks.

The second half however saw Norwich come at us with more purpose and conviction. Clearly they could see that if they could get crosses into the box, they would have a chance. Sure enough, on 54 minutes another searching cross came in. We all know that it should have been dealt with by Simon Mignolet, but his flap at the cross fell invitingly at the feet of Gary Hooper who, as expected, slotted into the empty net from about five yards out. I’m still unsure about Mignolet. Great shot-stopper undoubtedly but his decision making of when to come for crosses and when to stay is so poor at times.

Nevertheless, we were still in front and eight minutes later our two goal cushion was restored when Raheem Sterling intercepted a wayward Bradley Johnson pass on the halfway line, to sprint clear and ruthlessly capitalise on the midfielder’s error. Liverpool 3-1 in front, surely we will now see the game out. As with some of our other roller coaster games this season (eg the Swansea 4-3 and the Stoke 5-3) though, the game was to be poised on a knife edge when on 75 minutes Liverpool again failed to stop a routine cross coming in and Robert Snodgrass rose above the static Mamadou Sakho and Jon Flanagan to head home.

Fifteen minutes plus injury time left. Most definitely game on. I felt the introduction of Victor Moses for the last 20 minutes or so provided us with more of an outlet up front as at times Luis Suarez was looking more and more isolated in the second half. It was Moses’ tenacity that helped Luis Suarez bear down on goal in the final few moments. Most fans expected him to finish the move off himself but instead he squared the ball to Lucas Leiva who’s two attempts from about six yards were blocked.

As it happened the miss was not costly as the final whistle sounded soon after much to the relief of the travelling fans and players. Another vital three points for Liverpool. We did deserve the three points but it was evident that we missed Jordan Henderson (who’d have said that a year ago!?). Lucas came in but looked a bit rusty at times. He still made some great tackles and interceptions but I just wish he’d cut out giving away cheap free kicks in dangerous areas.

Three more Cup Finals left, starting with Chelsea next Sunday at Anfield (April 27th, 2.05 pm kick off). As  Steven Gerrard would say…..WE GO AGAIN!!

And finally…..CONGRATULATIONS LIVERPOOL ON REACHING THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE!!

Let me know what your thoughts are by leaving a comment below (click the “Comments” link).

If you haven’t seen them yet or would like to see them again, here are the highlights to the game……(commentary is not in English though).

 

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