An insatiable desire for justice and an agonising need for the truth behind the tragic events of Hillsborough has driven Liverpool Football Club for a quarter-of-a-century. With the 25th anniversary of the loss of the 96 innocent lives about to dawn, justice is on the horizon for the families and friends left behind. New inquests and criminal investigations are finally going to deliver damning accountability on the inept and corrupt culprits who presided over the carnage and cover-up.
How bitter then the irony, that Liverpool FC and highly questionable ‘officialdom’, should host a wanton injustice in an arena and a community, that rightly pays homage to those who lost their lives in pursuit of a football passion.
Thankfully there was no loss of life as Liverpool edged a tumultuous battle against Manchester City at Anfield, but the highest level of English football lost its credibility amid a cauldron of passion and emotion, that ran deeper than the ‘black box’ recorders of missing Malaysian flight MH370.
The focus of any investigation this time around should be on referee Mark Clattenburg who, innocently or otherwise, shaped the fate of this titanic struggle and with it, the final resting place of the Premier League title of 2013/14.
For the neutral this was utopia, the ultimate offering from the Premier League ‘brand’ – goals, drama, excitement, along with the ‘C’ word… controversy, created by the biggest ‘C’ on the Select Group list of the Professional Game Match Officials Board – Clattenburg.
The ref, with hair as dubious as his decision making, failed to award City two clear penalities, first when Dzeko was felled by Sakho in the first half, and second as budding Wrestlemania star Skrtel, punched the ball clear in a frantic finish to the hostilities.
By far the biggest miscarriage of justice was Clattenburg’s incomprehensible failure to dismiss the repugnant rodent-like Suarez for a dive that any U-Boat commander would be immensely proud.
The cannibalistic Uruguayan, the creature who put the ‘eat’ into cheat, was booked in the opening minutes of the match after a late challenge on Martin Demichelis.
At that stage it boded well that the referee was going to be both firm and impartial in the highly-charged, multi-layered atmosphere born of anticipation, expectation, anguish and sorrow.
Nothing could have been further from the truth when, for reasons known only to himself – at least that must be the hope – Clattenburg engineered an epic fail by ‘sanctioning’ a blatant slice of Suarez simulation.
The dictionary defines the verb simulate: ‘to make a pretence’ ‘imitate the conditions of (a particular situation)’…in football speak it translates into a cheating dive, 100% deserving of a bookable offence – the second of the day – and dismissal.
The only ‘yellow’ on display was Clattenburg’s abject spinelessness. He didn’t award Suarez a free kick for the simple fact Demichelis hadn’t touched him. So why didn’t he book him?
In the media-fired frenzy and clamour for Liverpool to win their first ever Premier League crown – especially in the midst of the Hillsborough anniversary – does anyone with any influence care to demand an answer from Clattenburg?
Does the County Durham official have a secret sponsorship deal with makers of incontinence pants? Did he nigh on crap himself when faced with making the right decision?
His supporters and those seeking to whitewash his deficiencies will point to the last minute dismissal of Jordan Henderson – for a horrific lunge at Samir Nasri – as proof of his impartiality and decisiveness.
What utter tosh, it doesn’t compare with Luis the low-life being forced to miss 43 minutes of action.
As for the action there was plenty of it, with much of it coming in the first half from a scintillating Liverpool attack who tore City to shreds.
The 2-0 lead at the break flattered City, the margin could easily have been doubled, had it not been for a world class save from Joe Hart and Daniel Sturridge’s profligacy in front of goal.
Raheem Sterling’s opener on five minutes was class and composure personified. It also gave the first hint of the afternoon that Vincent Kompany, despite passing a fitness test, was simply ‘not right’.
City’s Captain Fantastic had, by his own imperious standards, a stinker and was culpable in all three Liverpool goals.
Sterling outpaced and outwitted him for the first, Skrtel outmuscled him for the second and the usually rock solid ‘Belgian Boulder’ produced a panic fuelled ‘clearance’ that amounted to an assist for Coutinho’s winner.
Kompany’s discomfort was mirrored by that of Yaya Toure’s, when the Ivorian colossus was forced to exit the fray after just 19 minutes with a muscle injury.
It was rapidly turning into the Sunday from hell for Manuel Pellegrini as a relentless Liverpool went for City’s jugular with searing pace, urged on by the baying masses, oozing hostility at every touch of the ball by a man clad in sky blue.
The rabid-like home support was in stark contrast to the empathetic atmosphere prior to kick-off.
Ever respectful, the City fans unfurled a huge banner with bearing sentiments of ‘YNWA Manchester City Remembers the 96’ in a touching display of camaraderie with their fellow football supporters.
The one-minute silence was impeccably observed by the away section – it was always going to be the case.
It makes it all the more saddening that there were social media reports aplenty and eye witness accounts, of City fans being attacked and coaches bombarded with bricks after the match.
Corroboration is required, but tempers must have been running high after such a tempestuous affair over the 96 minutes.
Had it not been for a superb City second half display – thoroughly deserving of a draw – that would not have been the case.
Pellegrini has to take some of the blame for a clueless first half performance, but it’s a measure of his talent that despite the early loss of Yaya, and a physically compromised Kompany, City turned the game on its head with two goals in five second half minutes.
Gone were wave after wave of Liverpool attacks, replaced by an assured and purposeful City who powered back into contention.
James Milner replaced Jesus Navas in the 50th minute and was instrumental, along with the indefatigable Fernandinho and sublime David Silva, in picking holes in the brittle Pool backline.
Silva converted a close range effort in the 57th minute after a slick interchange between the England and Brazilian midfielders. He then forced an error from Glen Johnson, as the England full back diverted Silva’s cross-cum-shot past Mignolet in the Liverpool goal.
With a half-an-hour to go it seemed City were the most likely winners and Sergio Aguero replaced Dzeko. A sponsorship deal with JCB should have been on the table – City had dug deep and were getting their just reward.
The mercurial Silva was a toe-end away from making it 3-2 when he just couldn’t stretch far enough to steer an Aguero cross beyond Mignolet.
Steven Gerrard was reduced to hoofing the ball upfield as City took control and Brendan Rodgers’ beleaguered troops suddenly had the look of mere mortals, not the supermen that the likes of Sky’s two Jamie jerks – Carragher and Redknapp – would have us believe.
But even superheroes have their flaws. Kompany’s horribly sliced 78th minute clearance fell kindly to Coutinho and the 21-year old Brazilian playmaker sent a sizzling shot beyond Hart’s despairing dive.
City didn’t deserve to lose, but the same could be said of Liverpool when they lost 2-1 at the Etihad on Boxing Day night. If the second half had been anything like the first, City would have been buried and the sky blues would have been magnanimous in defeat.
Frustratingly, City were left to reflect on Clattenburg’s imperfections and Suarez’s perverted interpretation of sportsmanship.
It had been on an occasion which had demanded dignity and integrity – neither of which were forthcoming from the man from Consett, County Durham or the cheat from Salto in north west Uruguay.
City are left lingering seven points behind Liverpool with 18 points still up for grabs. Two years ago, Mancini’s men were eight points behind with 18 left to contest.
Now, as then, City must ‘fight ‘till the end’. Fortress Anfield denied City victory in battle…but there’s still a war to be won.
By David Walker