Issue Where The Embarrassment Lies

As told by Michael Wood

Garth Crooks was getting excited. He cheered as Havant & Waterlooville scored their second goal at Anfield after dubbed Liverpool’s concession of a single goal at home to the non-leaguers as acutely embarrassing. It is comments like this that show why in the case of football management those who can do and those who can’t become pundits.

Havant & Waterlooville’s success – limited by the fact that in the end they did get beaten – is being celebrated as a glorification of the FA Cup and the way it levels the mighty and the minnows and of course in headline terms that is a nice way of selling the story but there was no magic about the non-leaguer’s performance at the Premiership side and very little to do with the big hearts and bold spirits that are being talked about.

In fact Havant & Waterlooville were – on the whole – a triumph of head over heart and of smart over spirit. They arrived at Anfield with a determination to stick to a well drilled game plan and rather than roaring into the game as mice against lions they took the approach that Liverpool were no different a proposition than Braintree Town or Bromley and should be met in the same way.

Back fours flat and well marshalled they went out at Anfield. Fullbacks supported by wingers coming back and midfielders protecting the back four they got the reward for an understanding that while they could do little to match the skill and fitness of Liverpool the majority of the battle of a football match is in approach and team discipline.

Who knows how manager Shaun Gale stopped his players from being phased but somehow he put them on the pitch drilled into a formation and with the belief that while Liverpool might – and did – possess the fitness and odd bit of skill to beat them if they could match the twice in three years European Champions League finalists for effort and keep to the tactics then they would make an account of themselves.

This is far from embarrassing for Liverpool – at least in the sense that Crooks intended – and such comments come from a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the game. The belief that being a “better” player in a “better” team means that you can utterly nullify the opposition is country to the experience of watching football week in week out and far too close to the increasing Pro Evo/FIFA inspired view of football that seems to have gripped terraces to the detriment of the game.

Teams that keep to a disciplined formation and have self belief will always play well and likewise very skilful footballers will – when regiments are forgotten – look disjointed and ramblous. Be it Havant & Waterlooville or Manchester United the embarrassing thing for Liverpool – if such a term should exist in top class football – is that the non-league team were for much of the game more committed to a tactic and an ethic of belief than the Premiership side.