There is something quite basic and instinctive about accusation, an accusation to attribute responsibility. In its basic form, ‘it was his fault!’ Football fans have an ongoing compulsion to single out a particular moment or player as directly accountable for the outcome of the surrounding 89 minutes.
No goal conceded by one’s own team can be excused because somewhere, 60 yards away, and two minutes ago, possession was lost from a less than inventive throw-in. After Sunday’s brunch stalemate with West Brom, Kolo Toure was the latest to absorb responsibility for Liverpool not acquiring three apparently life-or-death points.
Flash back to the Christmas period, and until Chelsea’s recent halting of the Etihad juggernaut, Liverpool had tested Manchester City to limits not pushed under Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure in charge on their own patch. However, with geographically related accusations and photo-shopped offside lines, referee Lee Mason’s decisions expunged everything else that happened on Boxing Day. The next week was spent rummaging through previous Mason performances, desperately seeking a link to validate an agenda. Raheem Sterling, Glen Johnson and Joe Allen were grateful beneficiaries of this exercise as their failures when presented with gilt-edged chances were erased from history. Simon Mignolet’s mistake was excusable because, of course, it wasn’t borne out of an agenda against the club.
The simple truth is that all of these elements accumulate to result in defeat. Professional footballers, being paid more per week than referees make in a year, made equally costly mistakes. If officials repeatedly failed in their duties as Liverpool invariably do with set-pieces they’d be on the Uriah Rennie scrapheap before a season reaches the point where Sky Sports start subscribing to movie trailer tag-lines for any top-six match.
Fans though need a fulcrum for vitriol as if somehow specifically targeting one precise error will alleviate every other fault, error and strategical naivety that the team as a unit are guilty of. Some seem so unwaveringly focused on such a target that they hope it will conjure some form of Uri Gellar phenomenon of points transference and by the time they wake up, Liverpool will have been victorious.
Almost equally hindering in this funnelling of concentration is the fact that it overshadows positives in performances. November saw what most likely will be the game of the season and the finest Merseyside derby in at least a decade. For the first time in a generation, the public of Liverpool were blessed with both of local sides playing free-flowing, rhythmic football completely geared towards winning the game. A match deservedly awash with as many ‘ebbed and flowed’, ‘goal thriller’ clichés you could subscribe to. This was overshadowed when Joe Allen selfishly conspired to lose Lukaku twice, which somehow allowed indiscipline at set-piece management, becoming overrun in midfield, and the exposure of both flanks to seep into Liverpool’s play – the fact that Allen alone did this was quite the feat. What a destructive force little Joe can be when he wants to.
This behaviour of course extended itself to Liverpool’s rather disastrous transfer window (although it’s yet to be seen just how disastrous). Little comprehension is afforded to the numerous intricacies involved in a multi-million pound deal across different countries, currencies, economies, leagues and cultures. Such logistics were irrelevant -it was just time for #AyreOut again. The real issue is the lack of transparency in this transfer funnel Liverpool have developed. The question is at what stage does the filtering block? The whole process is so completely opaque that Ian Ayre has become the lightening rod and Brendan Rodgers will ultimately feel the current.
The reality is that Liverpool lost the lead against West Brom because of Kolo Toure’s mistake but they lost maximum points because of an inept second-half performance that bore no resemblance to Tuesday night’s demolition of Everton. The question is not ‘why did he pass that across his own fucking box?’, but ‘why do a team, as free-scoring as any Liverpool side have been for 20 years, only have two gears – fifth or first?’ Why can’t Liverpool turn the screw when required to? Stoke aside, it seems that unless Liverpool play really well, they don’t leave the game with three points.
The Hawthorns draw means Liverpool equalled Arsenal’s result on their travels there and bettered Man United’s when they hosted West Brom. It also served to move them yet another point ahead of last year’s champions and kept Spurs at arm’s length. However, perspective is lost when a mistake is so seemingly unforgivable.
It’s often said that football is a simple game. It isn’t. There are thousands of permutations during every match and an unlimited total when it comes to a season’s final standing. Nothing is certain, nothing is conclusive and no single thing equates to a result. If Liverpool are to realise their potential and seize upon this opportunity for a Champions League place they will of course understand, that failure or success won’t be because Kolo Toure lost his line’s compass. Fans need to understand it would be a lot healthier if they did likewise.