At The End of the Storm: The story of Liverpool's greatest ever league campaign

The first post-war Football League campaign of 1946/47 was the longest and most tumultuous ever known. For Liverpool FC, it was the ultimate triumph against adversity; a First Division championship won in a style that was to set a precedent for future Anfield success....

End of Season Blog Post - Part One: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

After a "Season Horribilis", full of negative points and forgettable moments, I wanted to write an alternative post season review and make it one that highlighted some of the positives to remind fellow Liverpool fans that there were also some good times in the 2009/10 season.

Personally I have grown tired of all the negativity surrounding the club, sadly a lot of this negativity has come from our own fan base. We all know there were plenty of bad times and certainly some really ugly times but whilst our football club is at possibly its lowest ebb for many years I think it is important for us all to remember that there were some moments of brilliance - hence my chosen blog post title.

I didn't want to copy other post season blogs I had read, I wanted to pick my top 5 highs and lows of the season which hopefully go some way towards telling the story of a frustratingly poor season. If I was asked to pick a few words to tell the story of our season (without being too political!) then I would probably go with these;
Injuries, Horse Placenta, Beach balls, Debt Lies and Cowboys, Travel Sickness, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Frustration.

The points I cover in this post by no means complete the list of chat-worthy events in the season but I feel are those that fit best under each of the categories. I haven't mentioned the amazing night at Anfield where we put on a magnificent display to beat Benfica 4-1. But whilst this game does not feature in my Top 5 'Good' things, there's a special place for it in Part 2 of my end of season blog.

I hope you enjoy reading the post but please feel free to add your own comments and opinions.

The Good

Just before I launch into my top 5 I just want to mention one more thing that didn't make it to my final 5 on the 'Good' list but I feel it should at least get a mention...

Ryan Babels change of attitude, from that infamous outburst on Twitter to the passionate display of camaraderie which led to his sending off against Benfica in the Europa League. The one time 'want away' decided to take stock of his situation and seized the opportunity to make peace with the Manager and work his way back into the team. His red card against Benfica perversely raised his profile and, for me, he went up in a few peoples estimations for the fact that he showed he cared and was fighting for his strike partner who had been cynically fouled which led to the fracas.

So Ryan didn't make it to my top 5 but I wanted to make reference to it purely for a commendation.

There are many other things that could have been listed in this category but my shortlist of 'Good' things has to be as follows.

5) This City is Ours!

Another season and another double over our bitter neighbours (2 - 0 at Goodison and 1 - 0 at Anfield) once again brought the bragging rights to the Red side of Stanley Park.
It was the game at Anfield that makes it onto my 'Good' list as this was my first experience of a Merseyside Derby. What a derby it was too, and was not without its talking points particularly when Marouane Fellaini went in two-footed on Sotirios Kyrgiakos leaving the Big Greek requiring stitches in his shin, only for the referee to decide that the punishment should be for Kyrgiakos and not Fellaini, who also injured himself in the tackle and minutes later was substituted as a result.
Dirk Kuyt's 55th minute header was to be enough to secure the win for the Reds and the petulance of Pienaar finally saw him sent off for a second bookable offence although yet again Martin Atkinson was under scrutiny for not taking action against the South African International for earlier misdemeanours.

4) A Public display of support for Rafa and the team prior to the Spurs game

I personally think that the gathering of fans to cheer the team bus into the ground epitomises what supporting Liverpool F.C. is all about. Get behind the team, get behind the manager and every fan played their part as the 12th man to roar the team to a much needed victory.
There was more public backing of Rafa inside the ground with a banner held aloft on the Kop and the game ended with the home fans singing the name of their troubled manager.
The result of the game (2-0 with Kuyt getting both but again another game where we were without our influential captain Steven Gerrard) is largely irrelevant as it was the display of support that gets my vote and is justification why many believe that Liverpool Football Club has the best fans in the world.

3) Torres v Sunderland - Goal of the season?

Magnificent. Sublime. Simply remarkable. The way Fernando Torres created an opportunity out of almost nothing to hit a shot on goal after picking the ball up wide on the left and running at the Sunderland defence was just unbelievably superb. I just don't think I can find a suitable superlative to do justice to just how good that goal was. I don't think there is much more I need say about it because we all saw it, we all watched the replay over and over again and just for good measure I've added it here. From my personal viewpoint on Kop as that goal went in I thought it looked a bit special but watching it back on tv that night just made me shake my head in awe at the talent that is Fernando Torres. How much do we all hate the fact that he missed so much of the season to injury. 22 Premier League games and 18 goals. Still a magnificent strike rate for such an injury ravaged season and this goal in particular for me sits at the top of the list this season. Probably matching if not overshadowing that amazing goal on the turn from out wide against Blackburn.

2) Jose Manuel 'Pepe' Reina

Does anything actually need to be said here? Arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. All I can say is that Iker Casillas must be an unbelievable goalkeeper to keep Pepe out of Spains starting XI. But Pepe's time will come, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he will shine.

Once again Pepe has been a solid rock between the sticks, it's just a shame that our ever-changing and somewhat uncharacteristically leaky back four allowed too many chances for oppositions to take aim this season. Nevertheless, the ever-present super stopper was once again superb achieving another golden glove award (albeit a joint award this season with Petr Cech) and I think the fact that he signed a 6 year contract extension should not be underestimated in terms of the positive message it sends through the club. Even without Champions League football next season Pepe is set for the long haul not the short term gain. Very simply Pepe, You will Never Walk Alone.

1) Liverpool 2 - 0 Man Utd 25.10.09

This game, believe it or not, happened to be my first ever visit to Anfield. No surprise then that it features top of my 'Good' list.

This convincing performance followed our worst run of form since 1987. A well timed victory meant we finished the weekend only 6 points behind Chelsea, who were top at the time, and 4 points behind Man Utd in 2nd.

The previous weekend saw the Reds humiliated on the road by the infamous 'Beach Ball goal' away at Sunderland. So the week leading up to this game turned into a circus with sales of the LFC Beach ball set going through the roof. As the club shop had sold out by Monday, many people decided to put their LFC beach balls up for sale on ebay and there was a media frenzy over the fact that it was a young Liverpool fan who had batted the offending inflatable spherical creator of havoc onto the pitch.

Prior to the game there was a public demonstration against the owners by the Supporters Union, Spirit of Shankly, which also attracted a fair bit of media attention. We will never really know if this off-field campaign helped to gee up the home support in preparation for the on-field battle, but one thing is for sure, the players and the 12th man were most definitely up for this one.

And so the Mancs arrived at Anfield armed with beachballs to show us Liverpool fans just how funny they were. However, what they didn't bank on was the home fans scouse sense of humour and actually beating them at their own game with a flurry of offending spherical replicas being dispatched from the Kop onto the pitch prior to kick off.

In the game itself, Fernando Torres once again proved his excellence by brushing aside Rio Ferdinand and lashing a well struck unstoppable effort high into the roof of the net past Van Der Sar at the Kop end on 65 minutes after a tense goal-less first 45. Let us not forget that Torres admitted afterwards that he was playing through the pain barrier and said that he had to shoot to Van Der Sars left because it hurt to much to kick across goal! It's ok Nando, we don't mind.

Let us also not forget that Liverpool were without the services of Steven Gerrard for this game but solid and resolute performances from Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva meant that their opposite numbers were kept quiet throughout the game.

The match expectedly was not without an element of controversy with 5 yellow cards, 1 red card a piece and a vociferous home crowd jeering the return to Anfield of their once heroic striker now turned Judas Michael Owen. His introduction to the game on 74 minutes almost delivered the goal that the travelling supporters so dearly craved. A decent cross by Owen was met by Valencia who smashed the ball against the bar from a very tight angle. This was to be the closest United came to goal in a fraught and nervy final few minutes.

The committment, energy, passion and desire to win this game was there for all to see and when Nemanja Vidic was sent off on 89 minutes for the 3rd successive game against the Reds it served only to lift the crowd and team even more. However, Javier Mascherano later joined Vidic on the sidelines as he saw yellow for a second time after a reckless challenge on the out-rushing keeper deep into injury time.

A good result turned into a great result when in injury time Torres' replacement David N'Gog ran clear to tuck away Liverpools 2nd and the killer blow sealing the victory and sending Anfield into raptures.

A jubilant Pepe Reina ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with the goal scorer in front of the adoring Kop which underlined what this result meant to the players and fans alike and it also provided arguably one of the best photos of the season.

The Bad

Lets be honest, this list could have gone on and on but whilst I wanted to narrow it down to a top 5 "Bad" things from the season I didn't want this part to get too political so I focussed on things on the field rather than off it. Look out for Part 2 though...

5) A Dismal Defeat

31.10.09: Fulham 3 - 1 LFC

This game in my opinion goes down as the worst defeat of the season for 3 reasons;
1. It was our heaviest defeat (although we also lost 3-1 at home to Aston Villa)
2. We had 2 players sent off one of which was Philip Degen who was also given his first start of the season
3. Possibly the worst referee was in charge (Lee Mason) and made some poor decisions which just heaped pressure on the team

As if losing wasn't bad enough it was an embarrassment to be reduced to 9 men and the overall performance was the complete opposite of the battling confident display the players showed against Man United the previous weekend. It was the end of October but already this was our fifth defeat of the season, which according to just about every pundit, newspaper publication and probably several thousand Liverpool fans was already over. Sadly they were all proven correct.

What made things worse was the serious concerns about our chances even going into the game at Craven Cottage with Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Albert Riera, Fabio Aurelio and Alberto Aquilani not even making the squad. Added to which, Rafa took our goal scorer Fernando Torres off on 62 minutes to be replaced by Ryan Babel who, at that moment in time, was not playing with the passion and work rate that he later come to display in the latter part of the season.

4) Sicknotes

The team was dogged by injury this season which could have been even worse were it not for the miracle of Horse Placenta! We all know that currently Liverpool lack strength in depth and on more than one occasion our bench, with all due respect to the players sitting on it, was not representative of a top Premiership outfit and our injury list this season only served to exacerbate this problem.

Whilst Gerrard missed a handful of games himself I felt it was the absence of 4 key players that was ultimately too much for our overstretched and inexperienced squad to cover up for. Just take a look at the number of Premier League games these four 1st XI players took part in:

Glen Johnson - 25 games, Daniel Agger - 23 games, Fernando Torres - 22 games, Fabio Aurelio - 14 games

Clearly our biggest loss was Fernando Torres whose 22 games still saw a return of 18 goals. If only he could have played more this season.... No point dwelling on that now I suppose.

3) Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Thanks to the Volcanic Ash cloud spewed out by Volcano Eyjafjallajokull and the resulting 'no fly' order, the team had to undertake a 1,200 mile trip to Madrid via train, coach and finally plane. Even though Rafa Benitez and Javier Mascherano insisted this would not have an influence over the teams performance it was clear that they were below par when it came to kick off.

Atletico were quick out of the blocks and gave our back four something to worry about from the off and after only 9 minutes Diego Forlan managed to scuff a shot goalwards which ended up going in. Quite how the ball managed to make it into the net still fails me but the fact is it did and sadly that was to be the only goal of the game.

A 1-0 away defeat to Atletico Madrid would perhaps not have been seen as such a bad result given that we had the return leg at home but the frustration of Yossi Benayouns incorrectly disallowed goal did nothing to help the confidence of our already physically and mentally drained team.

2) Travel sickness

After last seasons record total of 86 points there was a great deal of confidence in our ability to go one better than the 2nd place we achieved but sadly it was not meant to be. In fact it seemed our season was doomed from the start as we lost 2 of our opening 3 fixtures. Going into the season many pundits had put us as favourites to achieve our ultimate dream after going so close in the previous campaign. However, by the end of October and after 4 defeats on the bounce, many of those pundits were backtracking and now claiming that our season was over. In retrospect they were correct, sadly, but I for one never gave up (as you will have seen in my previous blog posts. Yes delusional I know but whilst there was always a chance...).

It was actually our away form that let us down. It seemed that going on the road just didn't agree with the boys this term which was proven by our travelling record in the Premier League of 5 wins, 6 draws and 8 defeats. A total of 21 points on the road is simply not good enough for a team of Liverpool's stature.

If you compare this record to that of our home record it really highlights what a miserable time we had outside of Anfield. 42 points on our own turf were accumulated, coming from 13 wins, 3 draws and 3 defeats. A similar away record could have seen us finish 3rd (assuming we wouldn't have picked up points off Chelsea or United).

So that just adds to the frustration and hence why, for me, this ranks as number 2 in my "Bad" list.

1) Bad Form

So to number 1 on my "Bad" list, the overall performance throughout the season - quite simply not good enough. You will hear pundits always talking about 'form' and unfortunately for us this season it seemed to be prefixed all too often by the word 'poor'. Prior to the 2-0 win against our arch rivals at Anfield we had been on a run of 4 defeats - 2 in the Premier League and 2 in the Champions League. It was still very early in the season and there was plenty of time to turn our fortunes around but every time we had a great confidence building game and we thought "this is it", it wasn't!

It is this "poor run of form" that I put at the top of my list for the season which resulted in a failure to finish in the top 4, exiting the domestic cup competitions early and rather more frustrating early exit from the Champions League. The only saving grace we had was to finish 3rd in the CL group stage and therefore drop into the Europa League. Ok not the greatest of competitions but a European Competition nonetheless and we all embraced this opportunity to go on and do well. The more positive fans and pundits believed that actually we could go on to win the competition, and why not, we are Liverpool Football Club playing in Europe, of course we could win. However, by this time, our confidence was shot, there were glimmers of hope but this 'poor run of form' just kept coming back to haunt us.

These stats don't really tell the full story:
Longest Winning Streak (all competitions) - 6 games between 29.08 and 26.09
Longest Winning Streak (Premier League) - 4 games between 29.08 and 26.09
Longest Losing Streak (all competitions) - 4 games between 29.09 and 20.10
Longest Losing Streak (Premier League) - 2 games between 04.10 and 17.10

It's the fact that we just never really seemed to get going and every time we thought we had turned the corner we simply found another dead end.

This is the point I am trying to make...

The 6-1 win over Hull gave the team a massive boost, however the very next game we lost 2-0 against Fiorentina in the Champions League. This was then followed by back to back defeats in the Premier League without us even scoring a goal (2-0 v Chelsea and 1-0 against the beach ball) and then an even more demoralising home defeat to Lyon in the Champions League.

How much media attention was there on the next game - Man United at home? Listening to the reports and the "pundits" on Sky Sports that day you would have thought that another defeat was going to relegate us to the Championship!

We won this game, thankfully, and bought ourselves a slight reprieve and looked like we had turned a corner. However, along came that dead end again in the form of Arsenal and we lost 2-1 in the Carling Cup. Ok, so that was the Carling Cup, nevermind, concentrate on the League we thought. Did anyone think Fulham would pose such a threat? Well this was arguably our worst game of the season and a 3-1 defeat saw our Premier League winning streak stop at 1 game. This defeat then led to a run of 3 draws which only served to further frustrate us.

Here's a couple more examples of our frustrating season:

Confidence booster: Away win at Everton - followed by 0-0 v Blackburn and back to back defeats against Fiorentina and Arsenal.

Confidence booster: Home win against Spurs - followed by 0-0 v Wolves.

Confidence booster: Home win against Sunderland - followed by defeat away to Benfica in the Champions League and a 1-1 draw v Birmingham in the Premier League.

I won't go on, you get the picture. We just never got going. Bad Form. This, for me was the biggest on- field "Bad" of the season for me.

The Ugly

Sorry, couldn't resist.

I know that's a less than grown up dig at a professional footballer but let's be honest, he isn't the prettiest is he!

On a serious note, Liverpool fans detest this ex Manc Sally Gunnell look-a-like even more now after his scrappy effort was the only goal of the game in the Vicente Calderon and the rather annoying timing of the away goal at Anfield that final ended what slim chance we had of glory this season.

Even in the Europa League final between Atletico Madrid and Fulham most Liverpool fans I know were cheering on Fulham. Was this because we genuinely wanted Fulham to win or more that we wanted to see Atletico Madrid lose? Probably more the former than the latter but one thing I think we can safely say is that there was such a hatred for Forlan that Fulham and Liverpool fans together would have loved to see him lose.

Ah well, it wasn't to be but well done to Fulham and well done to Woy, a great achievement, a great manager and no small feat coming so close to glory.

In Part 2 I want to look at some of the reasons where I think it all went wrong for us this season plus more on that fantastic European night at Anfield against Benfica.

So, that's all for Part 1 of my end of season review. Hope you enjoyed reading. Please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts about what you feel was good and bad about this season.


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About Me

I'm a 30-something husband and father of 2 who has recently decided to have a go at blogging. I love watching pretty much any sport but my passion is football and in particular Liverpool F.C. If you're here then thanks for stopping by and I hope you find my words interesting and thought provoking. Any comments, feedback and constructive criticism is welcome.