With his side slowly withering under the spotlight, Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson was forced into a bleak assessment of the situation in which the club currently finds itself mired following their home defeat to newly promoted Blackpool on Saturday afternoon.
When asked whether relegation was a viable concern during a post-match interview, Hodgson replied in the affirmative and, given the nature of Liverpool’s start to the season (their worst since 1953/54), you can almost forgive his pessimism;
“Things are looking really, really bleak. It has been said that if you are in the bottom three, you are in a relegation fight, and I would have to go along with that.
I’m not thinking too much about relegation with 31 games left. My concerns are that we are not playing to our full potential, or are only doing it in periods. In the first half we were punished for a lacklustre display.
We had the ball as much as they did but didn’t do anywhere near enough with it to satisfy my demands, the club’s demands or the players’ demands on themselves.”
A common utterance from many-a league manager, but even so, it’s a weighted, dog-eared phrase that you’d naturally associate with men at the helm of newly-promoted whipping boys or injury-ravaged stragglers.
Never before in my lifetime have I heard it from the lips of the incumbent manager of Liverpool Football Club.
Hodgson’s charges trudged from the Anfield turf this weekend to a rousing ovation from the home support however, unlike days of yore, it was firmly directed at their tangerine-clad conquerors. Blackpool’s have-a-go heroes hassled, harried and ‘out-played’ their way to a famous victory, leaving many of the Red contingent agog at the new reality that is steadily dawning at their beloved club.
The fact that the end of the game was strewn with misplaced ire, the incessant chanting of club legend Kenny Dalglish‘s name and yet more protesting at the American ownership shows that many Liverpool fans aren’t quite ready to swallow Hodgson’s bitter pill quite yet.
And why should they? The supporters have become intrinsically accustomed to a better standard of living over the years, so it’s understandable that they would want to cling on to the memory of the glory days with every last fibre of their being.
Their achievements in the past are not sufficiently distant to become nostalgia, so they ask for too much and therefore the expectations are too high for the current team to meet – it’s a cyclical paradox that many clubs periodically face.
Take Newcastle United for example. Obviously they haven’t enjoyed past successes that are anywhere near on par with Liverpool’s, but the supporters’ inflated sense of grandiose is almost exactly akin.
After several seasons on the wane, Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League in 2009 under the stewardship of their ‘new messiah’ Alan Shearer and a new wave of stark humility washed away the self-entitlement that had manifested so steadfastly in the terraces of St. James Park.
A brief ‘cooling off’ period in the Championship ensued with thick slices of humble pie served on match days and now the club is back in the first tier of English football, plugging away with a renewed (and wholly more accurate) sense of standing and an altogether more positive outlook on life.
Now I’ve got to admit that I can’t for one minute envisage that Liverpool will be relegated this season. Hodgson has inherited a mainly upper-mid-table squad (the obvious exceptions aside) and will probably finish the campaign as such.
However, like Newcastle, a little heart-stopping realisation may go on to do them the power of good – even if that just means that the currently crippling levels of unthinking supporter expectation are forcibly reassessed. A dose of the fabled bitter medicine may go a long way to curing Liverpool’s mounting ills.