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Liverpool FC: The new Leeds FC?


Liverpool fans woke up this morning knowing their team is in dire straits after an insipid performance at home to a Blackpool team who knew they could win since boss Ian Holloway told anyone who would listen the previous week that his team were going to “go for it” at Anfield.

Pepe Reina has conceded seven goals in his last three Premiership games

And go for it they did. It could have been worse than a 2-1 defeat for  Liverpool. But after the game, was Ian Holloway ready to brag as was his right at pulling off one of the club’s most remarkable results? No. Instead he spoke as though he were sad to see the demise of the club. Referring to Torres’ injury and the ownership issues, Holloway was overly generous to the team his players had just beaten, aside from patches in the second half, with ease.

In fact he had these words to say: “To see the best striker in the world limp off after a few minutes, I can’t tell you what that did for us. His mere presence is awesome so to see him come off played into our hands and helped us.

“This is not far off the home of football – these supporters have seen some of the best football over the years and in my era as a player there was no better team in the world. The boys made me so proud and for that set of supporters to clap us off that is all I wanted – that was what my dream was last night.”

Odds on Hodgson to be sacked have been slashed to just 4/1

As for Roy Hodgson, the headlines this morning have the Liverpool boss saying his team are in a relegation dogfight. For now, that is not true and what Hodgson did say was that these are bleak times for the club. He has not spoken a truer word since taking over.

When Leeds were relegated in 2004 they had gone through managerial upheaval with first David O’Leary’s departure, followed by Terry Venables and Peter Reid. Star names such as Ferdinand, Woodgate, Bowyer, Keane and Kewell all departed the club as they slide from near Champions League glory in 2001 to relegation just three years later.

Three years ago Liverpool lost the Champions League final to AC Milan. It would be their last chance of silverware to the present day and beyond. Liverpool ran Manchester United close in the Premiership in the 2008-2009 season, but were always playing catch-up, albeit securing their best Premiership points finish. But ownership issues began to come to the fore and Liverpool sold Xabi Alonso, failed to sign Gareth Barry, and so began the inevitable decline of manager Rafael Benitez’ reign.

The similarities between the end of Benitez’ reign and the demise of David O’Leary, who fell out with the Leeds board over the sale of Rio Ferdinand, are obvious. O’Leary had been a hero at Leeds, leading the club to two European semi-finals and regular top-five finishes in the Premiership. However there was a sense that he knew the club was in trouble when he was sacked, that it was almost a blessing in disguise.

Leeds fans protest a points deduction due to administration in 2007. It would see them relegated for the second time in three years.

Likewise with Benitez last season, there was a sense that in each defeat Liverpool suffered the manager would make the point that the problems were coming from the boardroom, rather than tactics. Liverpool had failed to bring in the type of player to build on their fine season the year before that would make them title challengers. The Spaniard almost seemed to be defeated before he started games.

On October 17 Liverpool will resume their Premiership battle away at neighbours Everton. This battle between the two biggest under-achievers in the league this season will occur against the backdrop of the owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s battle to keep control of the club. The deadline for refinancing the club occurs on October 15, so Liverpool could be out of the hands of their despised American owners by the time the league campaign recommences.

Liverpool fans' protests have become a regular backdrop to games and are set to continue

Would this be a good thing? It would certainly cheer the supporters somewhat who see getting rid of the disastrous owners as priority number one. However at this stage we are still no clearer as to what the other choices are for RBS and whether new owners can be found. This leaves the familiar scenario of the club being shrouded in uncertainty. It also means Roy Hodgson will have the toughest press conference of his career to-date before the Merseyside derby.

Thousands of supporters took part in a protest march before Sunday’s game with Blackpool and supporters group Spirit Of Shankly (SoS) say they will be stepping up the campaign to ensure that Tom Hicks does not get a chance to keep control of the club. The group also hope that supporters will be able to take a share in the future running of the club.

These are dark times for Liverpool with former player Graeme Souness saying Hodgson faces the biggest battle as a manager at the club since Bill Shankly turned around its fortunes 50 years ago. Alan Hansen slammed the performance yesterday, but insisted Roy Hodgson would be given time to turn the season around and that Liverpool would be clear of the relegation area by Christmas.

When Liverpool signed Joe Cole what seems like years ago, and Fernando Torres and Gerrard said they were staying, things seemed good at Anfield. Now, just three months later, the club are a laughing-stock. Defeats to rivals Man City and Man Utd only made worse by defeats to Blackpool and Northampton at the ground that used to be intimidating to opposition players.

Now the only thing left to intimidate the opposition is the past. Memories that seem to weight on the stadium, the players and the fans. The fans who applauded off Blackpool yesterday deserve better. But look at Leeds. And Newcastle after them. There is a dangerous precedent for teams who should be too good, too well-supported to go down. And Liverpool are in danger of setting a whole new precedent for themselves.

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