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Why Liverpool FC should not let Sunderland's beachball goal lie

By Dan Kay on Oct 18, 09 08:57 PM in Journalists


Let's get one thing straight for a kick-off.

Liverpool's performance yesterday at Sunderland was by far the worst of the season and surely one of the most insipid in Rafa Benitez's entire reign.

A two or three goal victory would not have flattered Steve Bruce's energetic side and serious questions must be asked (again) about the depth of the squad and particularly the decision to change the formation of the side when there had been no time to work on it in training because of the international break.

The old axiom about fate kicking you when you're down was illustrated in the moment just four minutes into the game when Darren Bent's shot was deflected past Pepe Reina, as the world and his wife now knows, by an LFC-branded beach ball which had emerged from the away end behind that goal shortly before kick off.

It is often said that the opening goal in a match, particularly one so early, can be critical, changing the entire complexion and atmosphere of an encounter and Sunderland swarmed all over Liverpool after their lucky break.

Liverpool still had eighty five minutes to salvage something from the match but weren't able to - and never really looked likely to.

The home side, and Bent in particular (I wonder how many Reds who sniffed dismissively when he was linked with an Anfield move are now drawing wistful comparisons between him and Liverpool's back-up striking up options), created a host of other opportunities to put the black and gold-clad visitors out of their misery and seal an impressive home victory to add to their point at Old Trafford two weeks previously.

But they didn't take any of them, meaning that freakish moment, which should haunt the clown who brought the ball into the stadium (did you think you were going to get on the pitch at half time for a kickabout?), decided the contest.

And while, as stated above, Liverpool's performance on the day got exactly what it deserved, the rules of the game state unequivocally that the goal should not have stood.

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce stated afterwards, "If anyone actually knew that rule then they are a saddo".

And he's right. Even a self-confessed football tragic like myself wouldn't have known that one before it emerged in the aftermath of yesterday's game.

But surely, as many of the refereeing fraternity have stated, one of the FOUR match officials on duty at the Stadium of Light should have known what to do.

Ten years ago during an FA Cup tie at Highbury between Arsenal and Sheffield United, the Gunners scored a goal after the visitors had kicked the ball out of play to get treatment for one of their own players who was injured.

Nwankwo Kanu, new to English football and unaware of the convention that the ball be returned from the resulting throw-in to the opponents, played on and centred for Marc Overmars to score.

Sheffield United understandably were outraged and after the game Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger graciously offered to replay the fixture which the the visiting manager that day was only too happy to take him up on (they ended up losing by the same score as the first game).

That visiting manager's name? Steve Bruce.

Rafa Benitez did well to keep his counsel after the game yesterday and not try and make excuses for his team's poor performance on the day.

But in the cold light of day, the fact remains that if the match officials had applied the rules of the game correctly, Sunderland's profligacy in front of goal would have earned Liverpool an undeserved but useful point.

If Liverpool miss out on the title (or, perhaps more realistically bearing in mind current form, Champions League qualification), how important might that point be?

One can only speculate how this scenario would play out if Manchester United were the team affected.

What I am fairly certain of is that they would fight their corner to try and ensure at least a fair hearing - and Liverpool must do the same.

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