HARD though it was to believe, there were still some supporters rushing to the airwaves after Sunday’s game to berate Liverpool’s failure to close out two successive matches when leading away from home.
Never mind that this was Arsenal and Manchester City, or that we’d dominated one match for an hour and the other for the full 90 minutes; to some this was further evidence that Brendan Rodgers was out of his depth, and that our great club was being ruined by an inexperienced manager who should be serving his apprenticeship elsewhere.
Now I admit that I was just a little disappointed to be trudging out of the Emirates and Etihad stadiums last week with just a point from each encounter; indeed I would have appreciated those fine airlines providing sick bags in the pockets of the seat in front at the precise moment we conceded equalising goals in both those matches.
Yet it didn’t take long for me to see these performances in the wider context of the regeneration of Liverpool FC.
To go to both these grounds and not be beaten, and outplay them for long periods, was for me hugely encouraging.
And we did it not by stoic defending – ok maybe in the last half hour at Arsenal – but with exciting displays of passing, intelligent movement and potent attacking that was in stark contrast to most of our displays last season – and several this.
Great stock has been placed by the media and Rodgers’ critics on our failure to beat any of the sides in the top half of the table, ignoring the truism that they are in the top half because they’re decent sides rather than cannon fodder for the likes of us, and that four of these games came in Rodgers’ first five games.
Others have pointed to the ‘big’ games last season, when we did the double over Chelsea and won at Arsenal, as evidence that we are in decline, choosing not to consider how bad we must have been in other games to finish eighth.
Surely the reality is that, without the sudden injection of Russian or Arab squillions, any rebuilding project will take time and will develop in stages, and will experience bumps along the way. Regularly beating the so-called smaller clubs without our reserves of talent will be the first sign of a consistency of performance that will demonstrate we are on the right path; then we can start to win our share of points in the big matches.
Jose Mourinho said that the way to win the league was just that: to pick up a ‘guaranteed’ 60 points from the bottom 10 clubs, and then hold your own against your rivals.
Our results in our next run of fixtures will tell us as much about our progress as the two draws.
For the realists amongst us, qualifying for Champions’ League football next season was never a serious prospect, and a top-six finish will for me at least show progress, as long as it’s coupled with improved displays and consistency as the season progresses.
At certain stages of a club’s development, performances really can matter more than results.