14 March ~ “Remember Portsmouth” was Rafa’s rallying call before last week’s game at Wigan. The rationale being, you’d imagine, that by invoking painful memories of that 2-0 defeat in December, Liverpool's players would never dare tolerate such ignominy again. Unfortunately though, they took the manager’s words a little too literally, performing in much the same way they did at Fratton Park. That is, lumbering about the field with all the precision of a pensioner who’s forgotten where he left his glasses.
It was yet another miserable Liverpool performance in a season fairly riddled with them, strengthening the suspicion that Benítez is no longer able to get through to his players. And one compounded by their stubborn refusal to “bounce back” three nights later, on a dumpy pitch to dumpy Lille. Exactly a year ago, Liverpool were taking apart Real Madrid, then laying waste Manchester United at Old Trafford. For Liverpool fans, the contrast is beyond grim.
The home game with Portsmouth tomorrow night could well be Benítez’s tipping point. The body language and form of Steven Gerrard suggests he really has had enough with all this nonsense, and the fans are starting to resign themselves to losing Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano come the summer. Anything less than three points could be fatal for the manager’s position. At the same time, those same supporters are still committed to ousting the American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Many disgruntled fans have this week been emailing the Royal Bank of Scotland, threatening a sustained campaign of protest if RBS decide to refinance the owners’ loan in July.
In the meantime, Spirit Of Shankly – the Liverpool Supporters’ Union – is hell bent on booting out the Americans, urging fans to continue making banners and leading protests at all home games. Showing an earthy turn of phrase sadly lacking in his own recorded repertoire, ex-LFC shareholder Chris De Burgh has this week described Hicks and Gillett’s tenure as “a complete bollocks”. Latest reports suggest the pair will sell a stake in the club, but only 25 per cent. The proposed Indian investors are after a controlling 51 per cent share.
No such lifeline for Portsmouth, who go into Monday night’s game just hours after a High Court hearing to decide their administrative fate. HM Revenue and Customs have announced, however, that they won’t pursue its dispute over the validity of the Pompey administrator, Andrew Andronikou. It’s been quite a week at Fratton Park, even by this season’s standards. Eighty-five jobs went on Wednesday, a nine-point deduction and free pass to the Championship are near inevitable, and chief executive Peter Storrie has quit, claiming he’d been reduced to club scapegoat in all the financial mess. It’s bitterly ironic, therefore, that FA Cup semi-finalists Portsmouth have a better chance of romping home with a chunk of silverware than Liverpool this year. They’ve not won at Anfield since 1951, but two spirited wins in their last three games will give them more than a little hope against a side almost certainly out of reach of a top four finish. Rob Hughes