Liverpool’s emotional and thrilling victory is a fitting celebration on the pitch and off it
At the end of the game captain Steven Gerrard looked utterly drained and triumphant
A pumped-up Steven Gerrard shows just how much yesterday’s 3-2 victory over City means at the final whisltle.
This was an extraordinary day at Anfield, an occasion for remembrance that might have hung heavy on the shoulders of those charged with playing a football match in the midst of carefully borne familial grief. In the end it became a fitting celebration on the pitch and off it, an occasion of well-pitched solemnity in which Manchester City played their part.
There were two distinct entities in play. The first a match that could yet decide the Premier League title in Liverpool’s favour after a thrilling 3-2 victory. The second the 25-year commemoration of the Hillsborough disaster, given impetus these last few months by the gathering public will for justice.
It is perhaps wrong to mingle the two. There is catharsis to be found in winning a league title but justice will be served elsewhere, and soberly. Yet it is still almost impossible not to be seduced a little by the beautiful circularity of Steven Gerrard driving his team on towards the title in the same season the unscabbed wounds of Hillsborough have begun, finally, to feel some balm.
Drained but triumphant
At the end of a match Gerrard felt, at times, would never end, Liverpool’s captain looked utterly drained and utterly triumphant. It was that kind of day.
There had been fears that the occasion would be a weight on Liverpool’s players. Fat chance. If Liverpool dipped in the second half as City asserted their own champion qualities, then there is no shame in that, not least after an opening half during which the home players seemed to be running on air.
On a weekend of flags and flowers Liverpool’s players produced a bespoke footballing tribute for 45 minutes as the attacking unit of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho played off the cuff with thrilling, focused intensity.
It couldn’t last. This is a wonderfully resolute City team. It took them half an hour to catch their breath and 40 minutes to take a forward step. Then suddenly they were pushing at an open door.
With a little luck and the referee’s favour with the score at 2-2 City might even have won but this was never likely to be a straightforward occasion. Before the match there was a mass walk-past of Anfield’s permanent Hillsborough memorial, with a stream of people filing by to touch the granite where the names of the dead are etched.
There was an oddly restrained sense of occasion around this rattly old corrugated artefact of a stadium. Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish, Joe Corrigan and Mike Summerbee were applauded gently while they held a red and white floral arrangement.
A pre-match You’ll Never Walk Alone was greeted by a raising of scarves around the stadium, together with a mass raising of the hairs on the neck. After which: the minute’s silence.
And so Liverpool began at a tearing pace. Even before he made the opening goal Suarez had looked like a man playing his own game, more mobile, more furiously involved than anyone else on the pitch. Having bumped Gael Clichy to the floor with a flex of his left buttock the Premier League’s man of the season played the perfect pass at the perfect pace for Sterling’s run. His shimmy and finish was a high-class touch from a player of craft and incision.
For a while Liverpool were rampant. A City defence who had conceded only two Premier League goals since February 3rd looked giddy. The second goal, a corner headed in by Martin Skrtel, was a product of that horribly disorientating opening quarter. Coutinho was sensational. City drew level at 2-2 through David Silva and then a Glenn Johnson own goal, and might have won this match before Coutinho’s beautifully executed winner.
At the final whistle the home support bounced in the stands for five minutes. It was a day to remember but also to celebrate, whatever the season’s final outcome.