The Reds were dumped out of the FA Cup in their fifth round replay at Portsmouth and like last week have only themselves to blame. A missed penalty in the second half by Michael Owen proved costly as Portsmouth went on to score and ultimately win the game. The biggest fear coming in to this game was that if Gerrard doesn't perform superbly the Reds won't and that proved to be the case.
Chris Kirkland returned to the side in place of Jerzy Dudek and Le Tallec replaced the suspended Kewell. The Reds also saw the return to the bench for Milan Baros following his broken leg. Portsmouth got the game underway at Fratton Park and within a minute forced a save from Kirkland. Portsmouth were awarded a free kick. Berkovic whipped it in from the left hand side to the near post but Kirkland read it well and got down to save it.
A minute later and the Reds held their breath as Henchoz and Kirkland collided clearing a ball from Harper. Kirkland and Henchoz stayed down but after treatment for the Reds' keeper the game carried on. Up front the Reds were again using Heskey in a midfield position which left Owen largely isolated on his own. The Reds in fact started really poorly and in truth just never got into the game in the firs half.
On fifteen minutes Carragher was on hand to head away a decent cross from Portsmouth. The Reds went up to the other end were Bruno Cheyrou sent in a superb cross but with only Owen in the box it proved easy for the home side and Hislop fisted it away. The first half was incredibly dull and if anyone fell asleep it's no surprise other than the annoying bell ringing Portsmouth fan who refused to shit up for more than thirty seconds.
Quashie found himself carded on twenty four minutes as he tried to do all Reds a favour and injure Heskey. In fairness to the Pompey skipper he went in fairly for a fifty fifty and was only just too late. Heskey received treatment but came back on shortly afterwards. It was Heskey who had the Reds' best chance in the game when he was played in by Gerrard who had stormed through the midfield. Heskey hit his shot low but Hislop got down well and saved with his feet.
The half though was largely forgettable for both sides and after just two extra minutes of time the half time whistle went. Both sides made a switch at half time. Hughes came on for the home side and Baros for Liverpool. Before Baros could start the second half though the referee made the bizarrest of decisions. Despite the fourth official having signaled Baros's arrival to the play referee Messias sent him all the way to the touchline turn around and await his signal to come on. Baros came straight back to the centre circle and started the game. It was one of many strange decisions this ref made throughout the game which affected both teams.
Just two minutes in to the half and Milan Baros had made a great run and just edged past his man only to be called back for a foul by referee Messias when the advantage really had to be played. Baros had got past his man despite the pull on his shirt and was free when stopped. From the free kick just outside the area on the right of the area by the goal line Gerrard played the ball in only for Baros to handle it under pressure. Messias blew up and awarded a penalty. No Red seemed to have appealed for it and Portsmouth went mad. Messias finally consulted his linesman and changed his mind - the right decision.
Hughes was booked on fifty three minutes for a poor late challenge from behind on Baros. On fifty eight minutes Le Tallec so nearly played in the greatest of balls for Gerrard who had made a run in to the box but De Zeeuw managed to get to the ball just in time although he so nearly deflected the ball in to the empty net with Hislop already committed. It was the last action Le Tallec would see as he was subbed straight after that for Danny Murphy to make an entrance.
On the hour mark and Murphy on for just one minute came a great through ball from Spud for Baros inside the area. Baros was clean through but a superb last ditch tackle from Taylor came and cleared the danger. That is what the defender thought and in fairness so did Baros. However the ref decided it was foul play and awarded a definite penalty this time with no changing of his mind. After two minutes hold up due to a Portsmouth injury Owen stepped up to take the kick and hit a poor shot to the keepers left. Hislop made an easy save. Owen really didn't look at all confident with the spot kick and it didn't surprise many when his kick was saved.
On sixty three minutes Smertin got himself booked for grabbing at Cheyrou although the play should have carried on as Cheyrou was able to run on. Within a minute Murphy went close from twelve yards out with a header but it sailed just over the bar. Yakubu then found himself in the book for a poor attempt at a dive on the edge of the Reds' box.
Portsmouth took the lead on seventy one minutes and quite frankly you feared straight away that it was curtains for the Reds then. Hyypia played a poor ball out of defence and it was capitalised on by Berkovic who moved up the pitch and played a ball across the area. It was then laid off for Hughes who was unmarked on he far edge of the area and his shot went past the despairing dives of Finnan and Henchoz past Kirkland. Portsmouth went mad and the crowd erupted. Liverpool were stunned and didn't seem to know what to do.
The Reds did have a great chance to equalise just two minutes after the goal from a corner by Murphy. Gerrard rose well at the near post but his header was pushed over the top by Hislop. A minute later and Cheyrou and Murphy played a neat on to and then sent Carragher clear in the are but his square ball was fired too fast and too far in front of Owen to do anything.
Kirkland created panic in the area on seventy five minutes when he dropped the ball inside the area under pressure from Yakubu. Kirkland did well though to block the follow up shot from Berkovic and the next shot was cleared by Henchoz after beating the Reds' keeper. Yakubu should have put the game beyond doubt with eleven minutes to go when he played a neat one two with Berkovic. Inside the area though he failed to hit the net as he poked the ball past Kirkland.
The Reds played one final change with eight minutes to go as Cheyrou departed and Pongolle came on. The young French player went and played left midfield though and ever really made a huge impact out of position. Carragher should have done better with a header at the back post with just seven minutes left but in fairness it was a hard chance. The final decent chance for the Reds fell to Pongolle who was given the ball in the area by Owen who had turned and run at the Portsmouth back line. Pongolle found his shot well saved by Hislop though who then got up well and collected the loose ball. Despite three added minutes of play the Reds simply had no way back in to the game and went out of the cup yet again.
Over the game and the initial game the Reds have one thing to blame - themselves. With full respect to Portsmouth the Reds really should have had this game finished inside twenty minutes at Anfield but failed to create enough clear chances and paid for it. In this game yet again they lined up with a striker in midfield and created very little. The Reds simply never looked like scoring and when you miss a penalty then you are asking for trouble. A free shot from twelve yards should never be missed whoever you are. That said Owen simply looked off the game as a whole. Frustrated at being up front on his own for long periods and fed scraps it will be no surprise if the greatest striker at this club at present leaves.
This game should never have been needed but instead the Reds have not only failed to progress to the next round but they have also put themselves in catch up position in the league. Non-progression possibly saves the side from embarrassment by Arsenal in truth because playing the ay they are at he moment the Reds would stand little chance. What makes it worse is that catch up in the league will add even more pressure on the side to make fourth place.
The manager doesn't seem to have any idea how to get the Reds out of that position either and that is surely the time to hang your boots up and call it a day. I'm sure he won't and he will talk about some so-called quality out on the pitch but from my vantage point of late I'm becoming desperately bored and tired with our play. Digging deeper to support the Reds is something I'll always do if I can see motivated players trying their best. The fear I've had over the past few weeks that when Gerrard doesn't perform superbly then the team won't came through in this game. Why are we such an individual if not simply a one man team?
MotM : Milan Baros - only played half the game but changed the whole style of the Reds' play. With more games under his bet he will get even sharper and force the Reds in to a better shaped side hopefully.