Liverpool’s long wait for the title goes on despite Wolves win
Sadio Mane on target again but events on the south coast mean victory proves in vain
Liverpool 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
The first anybody knew about it was the tinny roar from the Wolves end. It was the news every Liverpool supporter had been dreading and, football being the sport of schadenfreude, there was not a great deal of sympathy coming from the supporters who, for one day only, had chosen to serenade Manchester City, champions of England once again.
That was the moment when everyone associated with Liverpool had to confront the harsh realities of trying to catch, and overhaul, a side of City’s durability, knowing now that 97 points was not going to be enough and that a season of sustained brilliance was not going to get its happy ending. Not in the Premier League, anyway.
A few minutes earlier, the updates from Brighton had told a desperate, longing crowd that City were losing. Now everything had been turned upside down. The Wolves fans were singing about Sergio Agüero, as well as “City! City!” and, cruelly, “You nearly won the league.” Later, the same thing happened all over again – twice, in fact – and by that stage everybody knew that Liverpool’s long wait for a league title, stretching all the way back to 1990, was not going to end here.
Of course, Liverpool being Liverpool, they were determined not to let everything fizzle out with a sudden, damp silence. Anfield was far too proud to sulk or stew. Liverpool won, again, courtesy of Sadio Mané’s latest two goals and it is the first time in 39 years they have gone successive seasons without losing a single league fixture on their own ground. Liverpool have equalled their club record of winning 30 times, the last time that happened being 1978-79 over a 42-match season, and there is the small matter of a Champions League final to come.
Ultimately, though, the only detail that mattered here is they had finished second – the best runners-up, undoubtedly, there have ever been, but second, all the same – and at the final whistle it cannot have been easy for Jürgen Klopp and his players to try to disguise all that raw disappointment.
They certainly had a lot to take in bearing in mind all the different emotions of a day in which Liverpool, for 21 minutes, had been top on the ‘as-it-stands’ table we have now in the modern sport.
Mané’s opening goal arrived in the 16th minute and, in that first half, it was difficult to comprehend how the afternoon would finish – or , indeed, what could be believed and what could not.
For starters, how about that moment, 25 minutes in, when the drama suddenly went up several notches? The noise started in the corner of the main stand: a gargled roar that suddenly spread, left to right, growing louder and louder. It was the roar of a crowd that believed Brighton had gone ahead.
But it was a deception, a false alarm, a cruel way to play with everyone’s nerves and leave the vast majority of this crowd cursing whoever had started the rumour.
For two minutes, at least. The next roar crackled round the stadium like electricity and this time it was real. Up in the directors’ box, John Barnes was pumping his fists. Kenny Dalglish was checking his phone, grabbing the arm of the person in the next seat. Liverpool were winning and his phone told him: Brighton 1 Manchester City 0.
Briefly, there was pandemonium but, as far as Liverpool were concerned, it was not for long enough. The next update came barely a minute later: a goal for City. Soon afterwards, there was another one. In between, a pocket of Liverpool fans started to celebrate another phantom Brighton goal. But the reality was that City were winning and the next updates, for Liverpool, were all grievous setbacks.
Amid this bran-tub of fluctuating emotions, it was difficult at times to concentrate on what was happening on the pitch. It must have been strange for the Liverpool players, too, to know what was going on, what they could believe and what it meant. All they could really worry about was making sure they did their part and that was not straightforward when Wolves wanted to show why their seventh-placed finish is the best of any promoted side since Ipswich were fifth in 2001.
To begin with, it was difficult for Liverpool to get through. Wolves defended deeply, looking to spring on the counterattack, and looked relatively comfortable until Trent Alexander-Arnold’s low and deflected cross set up the opening goal. Mané turned it in, first time, from six yards out and at that stage Liverpool’s supporters could have been forgiven for wondering whether the ribbons on the trophy might end up being red, after all.
Until, at least, the updates started coming in from the south coast. “Brighton came very close to an equaliser on the stroke of half-time,”George Sephton told the crowd at half-time, trying to soothe the mood. They know George here as the Voice of Anfield. “So fingers crossed for the next 45,” he added.
Wolves had also come close to equalising, when Matt Doherty’s shot skimmed the crossbar, and for the first 20 minutes of the second half they looked the more dangerous side. Liverpool looked weary, worn down possibly by all the drama and emotion of what happened here against Barcelona last Tuesday.
But they kept going. Mané’s next goal was a header in the 81st minute and, again, it came from one of Alexander-Arnold’s right-sided deliveries. It was the 13th goal Liverpool’s right-back had set up this season, a record for any defender in the Premier League era, and it meant Mané pulling level with Mohamed Salah as the team’s leading scorer. That, however, was not the prize either of them wanted. - Guardian