Reading dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup in humiliating fashion as the Reds’ season hit a new low. After a week which saw director Tom Hicks Jr have to resign due to abusing a supporter by e-mail, and manager Rafa Benitez seem to suggest that the club might have to sell their star players, fans were hopeful that the replay with Reading was an opportunity to lift spirits around Anfield. Those supporters will be struggling to remain optimistic after Liverpool were embarrassed by the Championship side.
Yet another stuttering, ragged performance from Liverpool was typical of their season, and the away side took full advantage with a clinical and deserved 2-1 win. Reading had squandered several good chances before Liverpool took a fortunate lead through an own-goal in first-half stoppage time.
The visitors clearly sensed that a giant-killing was possible and grew in confidence as the second half wore on and Liverpool became nervous. Jobi McAnuff’s wonderful mazy run deserved to end with a goal but Reading finally got their reward in stoppage time when Yossi Benayoun’s lazy tackle on substitute Shane Long forced the referee to award a penalty. Gylfi Sigurdsson kept his nerve to coolly equalise and worse was to come in extra-time as Reading became increasingly adventurous.
Some great work from full-back Brynjar Gunnarsson created a chance for forward Long, who silenced the Kop with a glancing header into the far corner. The most disappointing thing for Liverpool fans will be the lack of a response from their team after falling behind. Apart from a great chance for Benayoun, the Reds never looked like breaching Reading’s resolute defence and ultimately exited the competition with barely a whimper.
Liverpool could point to new injuries to both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres during the match, but in truth the team have no excuses for another lacklustre display which showed none of the side’s previously characteristic passion and determination. The team currently has none of the organisation and quality which became Benitez’s hallmark during the last few seasons, and made Liverpool a side to fear both home and abroad.
With the FA Cup now gone, Liverpool have just the Europa
League to fight for, a trophy that the club would have looked
on with disdain back in August. It is an amazing fall from
grace for a team which fought so hard for the Premier
League title last season and was beginning to suggest it
could end the long wait for a league championship. The
manner of this latest defeat will again lead to scrutiny of
Benitez’s position as an increasing number of supporters
begin to lose faith in a man who has been idolised since
he joined the club in 2004.
Liverpool fans had approached the match with rare
optimism after what had been a day of good news for the
club. Maxi Rodriguez had finally completed his bargain £1.5m switch from Atletico Madrid before kick-off and was introduced to the Anfield crowd. Even more positively, Managing Director Christian Purslow had given important reassurances about the club’s financial future earlier in the day.
He told the Liverpool Echo: “It’s in the public domain that the owners have been looking to bring new investors in to the club to pay down the club’s existing debts – which are today about £237m – by way of issuing new shares which would dilute their shareholding in the club. That process is ongoing.
“The stadium is absolutely central to the club’s strategic development because with a new stadium comes a transformation in the financial resources of Liverpool that can be ploughed back into the core of our activity - which is our playing squad.
“The good news is that all potential investors are attracted to Liverpool by the prospect of building a new stadium and participating in the transformation in the value of the club associated with that project.”
American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are extremely unpopular with the majority of Liverpool supporters, who will be delighted with the news that their share in the club could be either diluted or taken over completely in the coming months.
Purslow explained: "I see it as a two step process – new investment in the next couple of months which reduces our existing debt to a very low level, to enable us then to push on with discussions with banks about financing the stadium.
“It’s that stadium which holds the key to us transforming our fortunes both economically and in football terms. Provided all goes well, there is a serious possibility of new fresh investment into Liverpool Football Club within the foreseeable future.”
Nobody could deny that change is needed at Anfield, the only question is just how widespread will that change be? The fans have made it clear that they want the owners to leave but they could soon switch their attention to the man who controls what happens on the pitch.
By Chris Shaw
Chief Sports Reporter
More related stories
The Reds were ahead at half-time but a Reading penalty sent the game to extra-time
Fernando Torres had to go off injured again