The Reds put in a memorable performance against Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday as goals from Luis Suarez and Joe Allen secured a win, but not qualification in the Europa League
By David Lynch
As always seems to be the case with Liverpool, the latest look at where the club wishes to head heavily referenced what had gone before.
Ahead of Thursday night’s Europa League clash with Zenit St Petersburg, supporters were urged by manager Brendan Rodgers and captain Steven Gerrard to recapture the atmosphere seen on the many famous European nights at Anfield in order to aid progression to the next round.
Reading these rallying cries, it was clear that, even as the Merseyside club attempts to move forward and emerge from a hellish period of transition, the value of their storied past cannot be undervalued. But, whether supporters wearied by the tribulations of these recent barren years still had their voices was set to be fully tested for the first time in quite a while.
Thankfully for Rodgers, the Kop seemed ignorant of the fact that this was the last 32 stage of a tournament which is largely viewed as the Champions League’s ugly sister, as fans dived into every 50/50, headed every ball and relentlessly chased the opposition alongside their heroes in the opening minutes.
Incredibly, this commitment did not even threaten a wobble as Hulk slipped the ball under Pepe Reina just 19 minutes in to ensure that the Reds would need four goals to progress. The Kop simply continued as normal in orchestrating an atmosphere which would facilitate victory, and they were soon rewarded.
Their collective hope was turned into outright belief at the possibility of qualification as Luis Suarez and then Joe Allen scored to take the hosts in at half-time with a 2-1 lead and needing two goals in the second period. Put simply, the famous Anfield of old was back, and so this was an entirely attainable target.
It has often been said that, on its best days, the sheer weight of desire on the Kop can suck the ball into the net and with an hour on the clock this truly appeared to be the case. A Suarez free kick met the back of the net having taken a laws-of-physics-defying journey around the wall and into the top corner. Success was now assured, surely?
With just one goal needed and half an hour left to get it, another memorable comeback appeared to be on the cards, but, despite having shown a level of desire which merited more, the required goal just eluded the hosts. It is a disappointment that will certainly hurt a group of supporters and players who gave so much on the night, but the importance of taking on the wider point should not be underestimated.
In no uncertain terms, Liverpool Football Club needs and deserves nights like this.
These were sentiments later expressed by Rodgers, a manager it is worth noting is new to the phenomenon witnessed by those present on Thursday evening. He told reporters: “Hopefully there’ll be many more great nights for us to celebrate and especially after having sampled that as a manager in the home dugout, to feel that, I want many more occasions like that and with bigger prizes.
“We really needed them tonight and they were right behind us all the way and I’m just disappointed that we couldn’t do it for them but hopefully there’ll be many more that we can do it for them.”
The Northern Irishman rightly hinted that the club’s eventual aim is to reach the Champions League but, with that target firmly out of reach this season, another attempt at winning its lesser counterpart would, on the evidence presented against Zenit, be more welcome than initially perhaps expected.
If next season is stage two of a three-part plan to reach Europe’s premier cup competition, then the not insignificant reward of a Europa League run is the least the club’s supporters deserve.
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