Dalglish: We won’t give up
THIS stunning comeback, which lifted Queen's Park Rangers out of the relegation zone and effectively killed off Liverpool's Champions League ambitions, was a tale of two substitutions: one inspired, one puzzling, both significant.
The inspired change was Mark Hughes' bold decision to haul off his captain, Joey Barton, just after the hour and replace him with Jamie Mackie.
It was not an unpopular move – Barton was booed off – but given Barton's status it was a brave one. “You have to make decisions which are best for the team,” said Hughes. “Joey wasn't having the best of times, Jamie gives huge energy. We needed that momentum.”
Mackie also delivered the injury-time goal which earned Rangers their first win for two months, calmly sliding the ball past Pepe Reina after Jose Enrique failed to clear Luke Young's hopeful header forward.
A rare header from Shaun Derry, improbably rising above Jamie Carragher at a corner, and another from Djibril Cissé, heading in Taye Taiwo's cross at the back post, had earlier hauled QPR back from 2-0 down with 13 minutes left.
“We were determined to get something out of the game,” said Hughes. “The manner of the win will give us confidence. We showed belief, drive, determination, the things you need to get out of the situation we're in.”
For Liverpool the season continues to be two steps forward, two steps back. Last night they seemed sure of victory – the first of 10 Dalglish demanded to achieve the Champions League place the owners want – when their dominance was rewarded with a spectacular goal from Sebastian Coates and a tap-in by Dirk Kuyt.
But Dalglish said afterwards: “I don't think anybody saw it coming.
“We started fantastically, the only thing that was missing was a bit of luck in front of goal.
“We could have been three or four-nil up by half time. There is not much more we can say, we don't have any answers as to what happened. We have to find them if we are to learn from it.
“The main thing we have to learn is that it is not over until it's over.
“There was a fair bit of feeling about how we would approach the game and how the players were feeling after qualifying for the FA Cup semi-final.
“Most of the game we were dominant, professional. They did concentrate for most of the game and we were constructive in so many parts of it. But QPR have walked away with three points. We never got what we deserved, but that is life, I suppose. I can't explain it.”
Even after Derry's goal Liverpool looked capable of scoring on the counter-attack. Then Dalglish made the puzzling decision to replace Luis Suarez, a constant menace, with
Andy Carroll. The resultant lack of pace meant Liverpool had no outlet and QPR penned them back.
Before the game, Ian Ayre, Liverpool's chief executive, had insisted Carroll was “an integral part” of the club who was “here for the long haul”.
That did not quite square with reports from Russia that Roman Pavlyuchenko had rejected an approach from Anfield in January, preferring Lokomotiv Moscow. Ayre also said the club's much-criticised approach to the Suarez-Patrice Evra affair was not down to Dalglish alone, but a “collective decision-making” process with himself, John W Henry, the principal owner, and chairman Tom Werner.
Ayre added the club had got some things “wrong” but had “moved on”.
That was underlined by a wish to extend the contract of Suarez, who, said Ayre “is a great guy”, beyond its current end date of 2016.
Suarez was at the heart of Liverpool's vibrant start with his slick movement and interchanges. However, his finishing does not match the rest of his game and he failed to beat QPR keeper Paddy Kenny after Nedum Onuoha's slip left the Uruguayan clear early on. At this stage Rangers were awful and Martin Skrtel and Kuyt had goal-bound efforts hacked clear during a string of corners.
QPR eventually settled but were 2-0 down before Reina made a save. On 54 minutes Stewart Downing's shot was cleared off the line by Bobby Zamora but Coates twisted acrobatically in mid-air to volley in a goal reminiscent of Hughes' fabled strike for Wales against Spain 28 years ago. Kenny made a magnificent save from Downing after 71 minutes, and, after Suarez had hit the post a minute later, again denied Downing only for Kuyt to follow up.
“You expect a team of Liverpool's quality to close the game out,” said Hughes. Not any more.