Monday, January 21, 2013
The man on the public address at Anfield was genuine enough. As the players trooped off at the end of a one-sided 90 minutes, he thanked Norwich City fans for their attendance and co-operation with stewards, congratulated them on their support for their team and wished them all a safe journey home.
His was a kindly tone that had echoes of Ringo Starr doing his Fat Controller voice for children’s TV, yet somehow there is nothing worse for football fans than sympathy from the victors.
About 20 minutes earlier, those same fans had been belting out “On the Ball, City” at its loudest, despite the fact that their team were trailing Liverpool 4-0, doubtless in the vain hope it might inspire one of their players to give them a consolation goal to cheer – alas, within seconds their reward was to see defender Ryan Bennett poking the ball into his own net for the home team’s fifth of the afternoon.
Few of the 2,000 or so City supporters who made the long trip north would have been surprised at another reverse at the hands of the Reds, who won 5-2 at Carrow Road in September, but the margin of defeat, and its apparent inevitability from the opening goal onwards, must be a matter of concern as the post-Christmas slump continues.
It is true that the Canaries have had to face some of the Premier League’s big hitters since their 10-match unbeaten sequence was brought to a halt, but Chris Hughton’s team currently look a shadow of the side that went on that impressive run, and though they were without key defender Sébastien Bassong because of a calf injury, it hardly explained such a tame capitulation.
City have maintained a seven-point gap over the bottom three places but with even the teams who were written off – Reading and Queens Park Rangers – starting to pick up points, no one is totally cut adrift just yet. And while fourth-placed Tottenham are next up in the Premier League at Carrow Road on Wednesday week, the February meetings with QPR and Fulham may prove to be more important if they are to keep out of trouble.
The Canaries must have wished their Anfield fixture had not beaten the weather as they were brushed aside like the thin coating of snow on the approaches to the stadium, and Liverpool hammered five goals past them for the second time this season.
Things might just have been more difficult for the Reds had City stolen an early lead when the chance came – and it was Ryan Bennett who could have been on the scoresheet much earlier.
With seven minutes gone, fit-again skipper Grant Holt was fouled by Lucas and Robert Snodgrass picked out the unmarked Bennett from the free-kick, but he put his free header straight at goalkeeper Brad Jones.
A better opportunity for City did not present itself for the rest of the afternoon and, after ’keeper Mark Bunn had saved smartly from both Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, it was Liverpool who went ahead on 26 minutes with a cracking goal by Jordan Henderson.
Jonny Howson managed to harry the ball away from Suarez but Elliott Bennett’s attempt to poke it further away fell perfectly for Henderson to swivel and strike a powerful half-volley from 20 yards that gave Bunn no chance.
Henderson, encouraged by that success, tested Bunn from further out, but on 36 minutes it was 2-0 as Sturridge dummied a pass by Lucas, leaving Michael Turner in his wake, and Suarez raced clear to tuck his shot past Bunn.
City rallied briefly and Holt struck a powerful volley that Andre Wisdom headed clear, while Bunn saved well in first-half stoppage time from Sturridge to prevent further damage.
But any slender hope of a Norwich fightback was extinguished after 59 minutes.
Henderson picked out Stewart Downing on the right and the winger’s first-time cross eluded Bunn to present Sturridge with the simple task of scoring his third goal in as many games for Liverpool.
Wes Hoolahan replaced Elliott Bennett in City’s first change but was on the pitch only a few seconds before it was 4-0. Glen Johnson made unhindered progress on the left and Steven Gerrard rifled a low shot inside Bunn’s right-hand post.
That goal came on 66 minutes and the rout was complete eight minutes later when substitute Raheem Sterling got away from Turner and slipped the ball across goal, where the unfortunate Bennett applied the final touch.
There is a currently a lively debate on value for money at Carrow Road in the wake of the latest season ticket price rises, but those who made it to Anfield were entitled to feel short-changed.