WHEN teams have a run of results like Liverpool have been experiencing, the plea that is often heard is to show more consistency.
The problem with this of course is that it assumes that the good bits are the ‘real’ level of performance while the truly abject exhibitions are merely inexplicable aberrations.
The unpalatable truth may be that the better results are achieved against inferior opposition or are due to some temporary stimulus like a perceived ‘big game’, the arrival of a new manager or the opening of a transfer window.
The mediocre displays may just as easily be the norm, representing the true level of ability of a squad who aren’t as talented as widely believed, or who lack the self-motivation to apply themselves consistently on every occasion.
So in appealing for a rollercoaster run to become more of a sedate model train ride, we might get landed with regular displays like those against Villa and Stoke, rather than against Fulham or QPR.
Be careful what you wish for, indeed.
We’ve had this problem for a while now.
Benitez’s last year was one of frustration peppered by the odd cracking result; Hodgson was doomed by appalling displays against Blackburn and Wolves; and the lift provided by the reappointment of Dalglish dissipated the following year when his big signings failed to deliver consistently, getting us to two cup finals but losing to the likes of Fulham at home.
This season has been no different, the Christmas period merely emphasising the two sides of our current crop of players: excellent at scenting blood when faced with timid opponents, shrinking from the battle when up against a motivated, determined side that refuse to give up until the final whistle blows.
What puzzles and indeed maddens many fans is that we often lose against teams who, man for man, are clearly our inferiors.
Over the last few years, we have had very few truly bad players; most have shown that on occasion they can justify their reputations and, maybe, their huge wage packets.
But I’m afraid that what the majority of them have lacked is what is commonly referred to as ‘character’: the ability to maintain a level of performance and application week-in, week-out, regardless of the opposition or circumstances.
Whether it’s down to the pressure of playing for a big club, an inability to settle into new surroundings, or just a plain old lack of ‘bottle’, too many of our players have failed to find the inner strength to produce their very best in every match.
If any of them are unsure of what’s required, they have to look no further than Luis Suarez.
Though justifiably criticised for some aspects of his behaviour last season, and facing routine abuse at every away ground, his attitude on the pitch has been first-class, delivering a consistent level of performance and application that has elevated him to be recognised as one of the best players in Europe.
His refusal to be cowed by physical and verbal attack while continuing to display skills of the highest order sets an example which many others should aspire to. If we’re to hang onto him, we need to surround him with others who share his passion and commitment.
With away games at Man Utd, Arsenal and Man City coming up, our intestinal fortitude is about to be severely tested. Those who fail to respond might be advised to turn their phones off on January 31.