RAFAEL BENITEZ manager of Chelsea. Joe Cole substituted to a standing ovation. Underwhelming disappointment at Anfield.
Yesterday may not have exactly been run-of-the-mill for Liverpool supporters, but it had a depressingly familiar ending.
Mere hours after Benitez was being improbably unveiled at Stamford Bridge, the Spaniard’s former club threw away a chance to earn qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a game to spare.
A hard-earned home victory over Swiss side Young Boys seemed within the grasp of Brendan Rodgers’ much-changed side thanks to the contribution from an unlikely source.
Joe Cole had incurred the wrath of Rodgers after being given the hook at half-time on his last outing in the Capital One Cup defeat to Swansea City.
Yet last night the 31-year-old posted arguably the finest performance of a barren, luckless Anfield career, creating Jonjo Shelvey’s 33rd-minute opener before putting Liverpool back ahead 18 minutes from time with his first goal since April 2011 after Raul Bobadilla had smashed Young Boys level.
However, lackadaisical Liverpool let the lead slip for a second time with Elsad Zverotic’s long-range effort on 88 minutes meaning the European adventure remains in the balance for Rodgers’ men.
Anzhi Makhachkala’s victory over Udinese earlier in the evening meant Liverpool knew victory last night would have ensured progress with a game to spare.
Now Rodgers’ men must beat an already-eliminated Udinese in Italy to guarantee their progress in the final group game in a fortnight, although a draw will be enough if Young Boys fail to beat an already-qualified Anzhi at home.
Such is the topsy-turvy nature of the group, Liverpool could yet finish top or bottom.
Not that it should be going to the final round of games. How infuriating for Rodgers, his team yet again hampered by what should be home comforts; Liverpool have won only four of 13 games at Anfield this season.
Cole’s display may ultimately make no difference to his future, but it was at least a glimpse of what should have been.
Shelvey’s strike, meanwhile, underlined his self-confessed love for the Europa League by registering his fourth goal of this season’s competition.
The opening group game against Young Boys in Bern back in September was the first Liverpool outing for both Andre Wisdom and Suso, the former scoring in an exhilarating 5-3 triumph.
Both youngsters have subsequently cemented regular first-team places, and among an experimental starting line-up last night that saw Shelvey pushed up front in what the zeitgeist determines is known as the ‘false nine’ role, underlining the paucity of striking options available to Rodgers he will hope to rectify in January.
With the vociferous and numerous away support bedecked in Young Boys’ traditional yellow and black colours, it was as though the visitors were being backed by a swarm of bees.