|Ramires 11||Carroll 64|
So the excuses have all now been laid bare and what have we been left with? We were told to ignore the pitiful performance against Fulham last week because the Reds were saving themselves for the big day. The payback for every Liverpool FC supporter was a slap in the face.
For 60 minutes this FA Cup Final was staking a serious claim to be the shittest in living memory. And for one who remembers the 1996 snooze-fest that is saying something. Neither team showed anything resembling passion, aggression, or desire to win making ESPN's 67 hours of pre-match build-up seem more than a little pointless.
It was an extraordinary start to the game. Chelsea seemed to take their "Pensioners" moniker a little too literally as they shuffled the ball harmlessly around the pitch. The Reds showed no intent to regain possession and simply sat back as we all started losing the will to live. There's a distinct difference between a cagey opening and one that's downright awful and this was unquestionably the latter.
Two of the first three goals we scored against Norwich came from pressurising the opposition in dangerous areas but on the evidence of the first 10 minutes there was no chance of this happening against Chelsea. In what seemed to be a mix of fear, blatant laziness and a lack of direction from the touchline our lads passed back, sideways, and back again before launching nothing balls to an inevitably isolated Suarez. It was excruciating.
Chelsea took the lead in the 11th minute. Jay Spearing was caught out very badly in the centre allowing Ramires to break free down the right wing. Enrique's defensive efforts were hopeless and the Brazilian's tame-ish shot squirmed past Reina who badly misjudged the strike. You can't say you don't get your money's worth with Liverpool FC these days. Here we had three fuck-ups for the price of one!
Abramovich's Rent Boys were looking comfortable now and aside from a blocked Craig Bellamy shot the Reds were hopeless in all departments. It was turning into the story we've seen a million times before this season. Downing hiding, Henderson lost, Spearing caught out, Suarez isolated, etc, etc.
Half-time came with the majority of Reds fans praying for at least one substitution to be made. It didn't happen and the attitude of the players stayed the same. Within a few minutes of the restart it was clear there would be no way back for us.
To make almost certain of that Drogba added a second in the 52nd minute. Fat Frank shimmied past Jay Spearing with embarrassing ease and slotted in Drogba on the edge of the box. His first touch was actually poor but Martin Skrtel failed to capitalise with the thespian's left foot shot nestling in the far corner. Goodnight Vienna.
As the words "horse", "door" and "bolted" rang through our ears Dalglish decided that now was the time for change. And speaking of "horse" it was Andy Carroll who was introduced for the sadly out-of-his-depth Spearing.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Carroll changed everything. For the next 30 minutes he was outstanding making us wonder where this form had been for the last six months. Within 10 minutes of his introduction he had pulled a goal back. The ball broke to him in the box and showing surprisingly quick feet, he wrong footed John Terry to rifle past Cech. Game on, sort of.
We pretty much threw everything we had at Chelsea for the remaining 20 minutes in what was a nerve tingling end to the game. The Rent Boys seemed to be withering as wave after wave of attack came but somehow Cech's goal remained intact.
Then with 8 minutes to go some neat build-up play ended with Luis Suarez crossing to the back post, only for Cech to brilliantly palm Carroll's header onto the bar. The Liverpool players were convinced the ball had crossed the line with Andy even turning away in celebration. However replays showed that it probably hadn't and it was such a close call that it couldn't possibly have been given.
On another day maybe we would've had that decision but the fact is that the Reds tried to get something out of this game by playing for less than 30 minutes. This can only be described as pathetic. The luck seems to be with Chelsea at the moment and I'm a little worried for Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. Let's hope that the Germans can do it because the sight of John Terry lifting that trophy may result in me setting fire to things.
We were let down today by the players, which in truth is nothing new. The difference being that this was their big stage and the world was watching. This wasn't home to Fulham or away to Bolton on a damp Tuesday night. The pressure was on and they weren't up to it. Chelsea won this game by being not-awful for 60 minutes, unlike us, and that's surely the most galling aspect of this loss.
I've said before that the players aren't good enough but there was more to it than that today. For the final 20 minutes we saw some real fighting spirit which was missing for the previous 70. Why was this? Is it because the pressure was off being 2-0 down? One thing is for certain – when the players aren't at least playing with passion and commitment for 90 minutes regardless of their individual abilities, then our problems are much more deep rooted than we thought.
The way this season has ended (we may as well forget about the remaining two league games completely) I can't see Dalglish being retained for next season. I stand by my earlier thoughts that he should be given another year to get things right but I honestly don't think John Henry and FSG will accept a season like this. With all sorts of horrible records being broken it's hard to blame them.
This season has been an unmitigated disaster, of that there can be no question. Time and time again we have been let down by the players, and on occasion, by the manager. Something has to give and for all we know a decision may have already been made. For now all we can do is sit tight and see how FSG are going to play this one.
Subs: Carroll for Spearing (55), Kuyt for Bellamy (78)
Unused Subs: Doni, Kelly, Carragher, Shelvey, Maxi.