After a good Champions League victory over Anderlecht at Anfield it was back down to earth and a trip to the Racecourse to watch the reserves face one of their hardest challenges this season. As the 321 people who came to the game tonight entered the ground I read through City's line-up to see such first-team names as Weaver, Thatcher, Sun Jihai, Dunne, Sinclair, Bradley Wright-Phillips and of course, returning from injury God!
Despite facing a far more experienced City team Liverpool will have felt aggrieved to be leaving North Wales with anything less than the three points after this hard fought game. After struggling a little, especially in the final third during the first half of the game Liverpool went on to dominate the second half and will feel unlucky not to have made more of the chances they created. They may well also feel that the sending of of Sinama-Pongolle after what seemed like some innocuous verbals to linesman was somewhat unjust as well.
Liverpool started the game brightly enough and for the first five minutes of the match City barely had a touch. The first time City were in action, they played an intricate move down the right and fired in a good cross. Luckily for Liverpool Antwi read the danger and got to the ball first to head away for a corner. Liverpool failed to fully clear the corner though and after a messy scramble in the box Micah Richards managed to make good contact. Dudek was helpless to prevent City taking an early lead. 0-1.
Liverpool were unperturbed with Flo looking lively up front and with Antwi looking excellent again playing in his preferred position in the centre of the defence. Guthrie was looking rusty early on but he gradually came into the game and with half an hour having passed neither side had really created many clear chances.
On 33 minutes Hobbs, uncharacteristically for a player who has been immaculate this season, gave the ball away in the centre of the pitch. The industrious Hussein didn't need asking twice. He picked up the ball and jinked onto his right foot. He unleashed a powerful effort that Dudek could only parry. Fowler was rushing in but as the ball flew out he didn't react quickly enough and the ball ricocheted wide of Dudek's left upright.
With 39 minutes gone Hobbs nicked the ball from Sinclair in typical fashion, fed Potter who, after good work, slipped the ever ready Sinama through down the left hand channel. Flo was at least two yards onside but the linesmans' flag still went up and danger was averted for City.
With moments to go until half time Sun Jihai and Whitbread went in for a fifty-fifty no holds barred and almost popped the ball. I can't remember hearing such a noisy collision. It was fair from both players though and both jogged off unscathed. I thought that was action over for the first half but just as my thoughts drifted towards the pie stall, the Reds showed they were still eager for an equaliser. In injury time Flo burst forward and fed it into Calliste's path, he ran clear of the chasing Thatcher and Bermingham and just when you were sure he'd levelled the score he managed to put the ball wide.
Half time was enlightened by the announcement over the tannoy 'Liverpool's next game here is on November 29th. For those of you that have mixed...(long pause) erm... (long pause) feelings (he stuttered) Wrexham will be playing...'.
City took off Sinclair and Dunne at half time with the Reds keeping the same XI. Liverpool kicked-off and in a pre-planned move Flo shot from the centre circle trying to catch Weaver off-guard. I hoped this would a sign of attacking intent for the nest 45 minutes and it turned out to be exactly that. Before Liverpool were to draw level though they nearly went further behind. Hussein got in behind the defence which was slow to recover but the City player crossed weakly into Dudek's hands.
Guthrie was beginning to look himself again after his recent injury lay-off and was much more involved in this half. He had a shot on fifty minutes and as the ball ricocheted to Calliste he slipped Guthrie in down the inside right. Danny put in a teasing cross which Weaver could only just get his fingertips to and the ball fell to Sinama to volley home from an acute angle. 1-1.
Despite Liverpool now controlling possession the next clear chance fell to City. Again Hussein was to find space on the right and his excellent cross was about to be headed goalward by Fowler when Antwi just managed to get to it and clear the danger. Even some of the Scousers there sighed.
Calliste was having his best game for Liverpool and looked a different player to the one that showed up last week. Flo set him through one on one with a brilliant volleyed pass. Calliste still had it all to do coming in from the angle with defenders back tracking; he hit a hard low drive and only an excellent diving save from Weaver prevented a goal.
Hobbs left the field for Idrizaj who moved to the left wing allowing Potter to move inside. Potter really improved once he'd switched inside and Idrizaj looked much more natural not playing as an out and out striker and his first offering was to dribble past a couple of men. It came to nothing, but it's good to see the young Austrian having an impact.
On 62 minutes Calliste and Sinama linked up again. This time a one-two put Sinama through into a similar position in which Calliste had found himself five minutes earlier. This time Sinama beat the advancing Weaver, but his shot failed to curl enough to hit the target.
A dominant Liverpool didn't have to wait long for another excellent chance. Once Calliste gets going he is extremely quick and another ball over the top saw him run free. He could have shot but chose to take another touch. The choice was the wrong one as it allowed a defender to get back and make a clearing challenge.
You had a feeling Liverpool might pay for missed chances and they nearly did. With less than ten minutes left City substitute Marc Laird had the goal at his mercy from three yards out. The corner that the referee gave as the ball sailed into the stands may have saved his blushes, but it was clearly the wrong decision.
As the game entered the final five minutes the excellent Sinama ran clear of the City defence. He entered the edge of the area and just as he went to shoot he was brought down. It was as blatant as penalties come, but it wasn't given. Sinama appealed to the referee then turned and had a few words with the linesman before running off. Before play restared the referee's attention was sought by the linesman. After a brief discussion the red card was brandished and Flo was told to go.
Paco Herrera looked furious as the game was restarted. I don't know what was said, but it seemed an injustice considering how bad the decision was not to give the penalty.
City tried to punish ten man Liverpool. They played with four up front for the closing stages and created a couple of chances - a long range effort from Bermingham that went just wide and a dangerous cross that nobody managed to get on the end of. The best late chance almost fell to that man again, Calliste. His pace was displayed more tonight than in any other game. He ran clear and only a desperate last minute tackle from Sun Jihai stopped him facing Weaver one on one from close range.
Man of the Match: I'm torn. I was going to give it to Flo, but as he got sent off I'm going to go with Antwi. He and O'Donnell (also the best performance I've seen from him this season) never really looked troubled by Fowler and Bradley Wright-Phillips.