Article by Karl Coppack @TheCenci
There’s a hashtag on James Milner’s various Instagram photos today which reads #digalittledeeperboys
I’ve been thinking about that all day while allowing my lungs and shins to recover from the last twenty minutes at St Mary’s Stadium. Was that maxim the Melwood mantra of the week or just his own urging?
Dig a little deeper. Go a bit further.
Following the exploits of Hugo Lloris last Sunday when the Reds were described as guilty, champion-like and, my favourite, the devil’s club, the lads could have done with an easier fixture than Southampton away. True, the Saints sit in the lower half of the table, but when Liverpool come to town they too dig a little deeper. Their crowd expect it given that their name occupies their own tab on Michael Edwards’ ‘Bookmarks’ list. With a new manager in tow and hell bent on tearing apart Mark Hughes’ brand of industrial football there was nothing easy about this Friday night.
Dig a little deeper, boys. Six games to go. Now five.
This is the time when you need your big names to carry you over the line. In recent weeks Sadio Mane took on the mantle of saviour in Munich when he shamed one of the best goalkeepers in the world. At the back it’s been Virgil van Dijk—a man who last smiled in 2003—who has kept things straight during moments of understandable mental fragility. Elsewhere Trent and Gini have shown signs of tiredness and Mo Salah has been snatching at chances, chances he would have despatched at a canter last season. The key thing holding us together was our indefatigability. These lads never give up. There’s always an extra yard to run, another minute to negotiate.
Following the Tottenham game the midfield was understandably changed once more. Fabinho returned and was joined by Gini and Naby Keita. That final name had eyebrows shooting up all over Southampton before kick-off.
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There’s been a lot of toss talked about the Guinean international over the last few weeks. One paper had him as being the first to leave the club in the summer—a piece of dross which was written months before only with Naby’s name changed for Fabinho’s when he couldn’t get a game earlier in the season. On the other side of the coin there are those who claim he is the answer to the lack of creativity in the central three. The truth is that, since his debut, he has been rather flat. Not the worst player in the world, of course, but not quite what the hype warranted. I like him but always think ‘Who has he hurt?’ when he leaves the pitch.
The king may not have been in the altogether as such, but his flies were definitely open.
As usual with expensive signings, he needed one to go in off his arse to reinvigorate his Anfield career. It’s just that many didn’t expect to see it in the most brutal of run-ins when we’re going for the League with the Harlem Globetrotters of Manchester.
It didn’t augur well when we fell behind to a Shane Long goal of all people. The Irish man had half an hour to slot past Allison and relished his seventh goal in just three seasons for the Saints. Historically, we’ve always been good at giving out gifts to struggling players.
That midfield were second to everything. The Reds handed every second ball to them.
Naby just needed one of his arse. Instead he chose one of theirs.
Those goals are the worst to celebrate. For a start it was at the other end of the ground and our lads looked a bit stunned that it had gone in so the celebrations were muted. Was it offside? Was it an own goal? Had there been a push? Two seconds later nobody cared and my shin began its first tryst with the seat in front. Still hurts now.
But that was what he needed. It was what we needed. Ordinarily it would be unusual to claim that a goal from a man with a £52m price tag would be deemed ‘from an unusual source’, but that was his first of hopefully many. If he wants to add three of four more by the end of the season, well, that’d be welcome too.
More importantly, it’s what Liverpool needed. A goal from someone other than the usual suspects. A new name on the scoresheet. Someone stepping up and leading the revival. Digging a little deeper.
The highlight of the game was obviously the Salah goal. He too needed that one, but it’s more than that and the fact that it gave us the lead with ten minutes to play. It was a typical Mo Salah goal. One from last season. The confidence in taking the shot early, the braggadocio of ignoring Roberto’s run. He knew exactly what he was going to do with it and where it was going. Even the celebration was planned. I enjoyed all three minutes of it.
Seriously, it took him so long to get back for the kick-off that the Southampton players had to do their warm-up again.
But back to digging deep.
Jordan Henderson divides more opinion than Marmite. I’m not ashamed to nail my colours to a giant Hendo flag and sing his name under it. He not Gerrard, he’s not Kante, he’s not Fabinho but when it comes to balls of steel and needle, he’s Rasputin with hair gel. His cameo was exactly what we wanted. No more messing about and not a thought of accepting a draw. He was all over the park, barking at his lads, barking at their lads and knocking players over to get to his ball. The sort of player some people seem to think Jack Wilshere is.
The goal was brilliant even though it was a basic tap-in. He flung himself at that pass—a beauty from Firmino—but that was second only to what followed.
Some people will talk about Yossi Benayoun’s goal at Fulham in 2009. Older Reds will talk of the Newcastle 4-3s in the mid-nineties, but this was something different.
Jordan Henderson had just made the game safe after the shakiest of starts, he’d just sent Liverpool to the top of the League and sent the ground and Red world into raptures and he couldn’t have been more furious if he’d tried. I love that.
Some fans hate him or, at least, don’t understand him. They’ll understand him now. True, it was only his first goal of the season and we’d all like him to score more, but is anyone in any doubt why Jurgen Klopp wants him to be his captain despite the presence of a nine foot Dutchman in the dressing room willing to take over if needed?
The celebration was a mixture of rage and joy. There’s no doubt who the ear-cupping was for. There are tons who can’t bear his presence on the pitch, never mind that the armband is wrapped around his bicep. That was for them. I’ve no doubt at all that he was still shouting an hour later.
He also pecked Kelly Cates on the cheek after his on-the-pitch interview. I like that. Respect shown.
Two midfielders scored their first goals of the season. Lads who you wouldn’t back as first or even last goal-scorers yet here we are. They dug deeper.
Just a little deeper.
Five to go. Shins and hearts taking a well-earned rest. For now.
Article by Karl Coppack @TheCenci