My first blog post of 2014. I should have written this ages ago… I have been really busy!
In recent years, January has been largely uneventful. When I was at university, this month would be the time I spent ploughing through assignments or revising for exams. In other words, education was always at the forefront. This year, however, has began in some style.
Last December, I won free Premier League tickets to watch Liverpool v Aston Villa at Anfield! I was ecstatic! I had previously watched the Liverpool youth team play Cambridge United in 2009, where the Reds claimed a 1-0 victory in a pre-season friendly at the R Costings Abbey Stadium. I was really excited about watching my first Premier League match and relishing the journey to the home of my favourite football team.
It was a three-hour drive all the way from Cambridge to Liverpool. I enjoyed lunch with my uncle at the Red Hot World Buffet, located within the Liverpool One shopping centre. You can choose from a variety of dishes including Indian, Italian, Chinese, Thai and much more. All for £9.99 (excluding drinks). The food was good. Pre-match meal complete. Next stop – Anfield.
We arrived at the stadium well over an hour before the game. We were situated in the Main Stand, close to the away fans. A steady flow of supporters claimed their seats as the match edged ever closer to kick-off. The pre-match atmosphere around the ground was great, watching both sets of players jog out onto the pitch as they made their last-minute preparations for this Premier League encounter. The referee blew his whistle immediately after we bellowed out “You’ll Never Walk Alone” whilst standing with our red scarves. It was a wonderful moment. The ball was rolling and the battle had begun. No matter what the result would be, I knew this would be a match I would never forget and so it would eventually prove…
Liverpool were desperately poor throughout the first half. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. Inside the first minute of the game, Aston Villa missed a great chance with only the Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to beat. The Reds were lethargic, lacklustre and lifeless as the away side dominated the midfield, playing with a high tempo which really unsettled the Liverpool back line and their ability to keep possession. Paul Lambert’s boys were full of energy and were rewarded for their efforts after 25 minutes as Aston Villa burst forward on the counter attack, firing themselves into a deserved lead with Andreas Weimann prodding in from close range. Their star striker Christian Benteke doubled his side’s advantage in front of the Kop, heading into a gaping net after Mignolet misjudged a cross from the right-wing. We were all stunned and speechless, while the away supporters taunted us with their chants. I must admit, some of them were fairly amusing.
I had been looking forward to this occasion for ages. I was savouring the prospect of watching the best striker partnership in the Premier League – the SAS (Suarez And Sturridge). Instead, I found myself amongst tens of thousands of disgruntled Liverpool supporters watching our team being played off the park at home. It was difficult to see how we would get back into this. However, towards the latter stages of the first half, Daniel Sturridge lifted the ball beyond the Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan. GOAL! Anfield roared. We finally had something to cheer about! At this point, I was grateful to see a Liverpool goal. Despite an awful first-half display, we were only a goal behind. It was an excellent time to score.
We spent the interval scratching our heads in disbelief. “Liverpool have been excellent at Anfield in the league this season. What’s happening here?”
The second half began with the Reds showing more purpose. Lucas Leiva replaced Philippe Coutinho at the break and Steven Gerrard was pushed further forward as Liverpool started to take control. The captain played an exquisite diagonal ball through to Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was in the box and Guzan charged towards him. Suarez went down. The crowd went wild. The referee awarded a penalty! From being second-best throughout the game, we had a fantastic opportunity to equalise! Anfield held its breath as Gerrard placed the ball on the spot whilst facing the Kop. He calmly took a few steps back before slamming his penalty into the bottom corner and beyond Guzan’s reach. 2-2! A great finish by Captain Fantastic and a superb comeback from the Reds! Liverpool went searching for a third but Suarez and Raheem Sterling were denied as the visitors held on for a point.
We were obviously disappointed not to see Liverpool win but it was certainly a game to remember. It was a tense encounter. The result left Brendan Rodgers’ side in fourth place, just two points ahead of fifth-placed Everton whilst falling eight points behind league leaders Arsenal. It seemed like it was going to be a real battle to secure a top-four finish this season. Two months later, Liverpool have won six of their last seven league games and appear to be on course for securing Champions League football next season. However, recent results have been so good that they currently occupy second place and are only four points behind current table-toppers Chelsea! It has been a really exciting season. With nine games left and Manchester City and Chelsea having to play at Anfield, optimism continues to build as Liverpool gather momentum in the title race…