Roy Hodgson was full of praise for the battling performance of his Liverpool players – but admitted to being left frustrated by the manner of the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Anfield.With the scoreline still goalless, Joe Cole was sent off on his league debut for the Reds on the stroke of half-time after a challenge on visiting centre-back Laurent Koscielny, who himself was later dismissed for a second bookable offence.
Nonetheless, David Ngog fired the hosts into an early second-half lead – but Pepe Reina’s 90 minute own goal rescued a point for the Gunners.Hodgson told a post-match press conference: “It was a fantastic effort but points are hard to come by in the Premier League and when you get so close, you can’t avoid the feeling of disappointment.
“Maybe that second-half performance deserved all three points and not just one, albeit if at half-time someone had said we’d get a 0-0 or 1-1 draw I probably would have accepted that.”But to concede so close to the end to a rather scrappy goal was tough on us. The boys did everything they could do and it was an excellent game of football. I hope the fans enjoyed the spectacle.
“It was a wonderful goal (by Ngog). It was a good piece of pressurising between Glen Johnson and Dirk Kuyt to set him up and David took the chance superbly. We had a couple of other chances in second half as well. Both goalkeepers were called into action and there were goal-mouth incidents at both ends.”We were playing with nine men for a short period of time towards the end after Danny (Agger) had to go off with concussion and unfortunately the game lasted just four or five minutes too long for us.”
He added: “I am learning about the team all the time and I am seeing players play seriously for the first time.”It will be a learning process for me, but the one thing I learned today is that the spirit is undimmed, the fans can expect the players to chase and fight and if we can add a bit of tactical organisation and allay that to the obvious skill in the team then who knows, we might be lucky enough to have a decent season.”
Reina’s uncharacteristic error was harsh on Liverpool, who had battled valiantly following Cole’s sending off.The Spaniard had earlier thwarted Arsenal with a string of top-class saves, and Hodgson had words of comfort for the custodian.”He took it hard because he is a very serious professional who really believes in himself and the team,” said the boss.
“He will be the first one not to try and apportion blame to other people, so of course he’s taken it hard.”But I thought he played well today considering he didn’t have an awful lot to do – and what he did have to do came very spasmodically. His concentration was good, his kicking was excellent.”He’s had a shoulder injury and came back quicker than we thought he would, so there are an enormous number of positives. The one negative, unfortunately, was he let in a goal which in normal circumstances he would have kept out.”
Hodgson admitted he was unsure whether Liverpool will lodge an appeal against Cole’s dismissal, but felt the Reds’ league debutant could consider himself unfortunate to have had his afternoon soured by the decision.He said: “He is devastated. It was his debut at Liverpool and a fantastic atmosphere. He was desperate to do well, not playing at the top of his game but trying even harder to get to that level, and then suddenly he gets sent off.
“He was absolutely devastated and saddened by it all, not least because he’d put us in a difficult position. 0-0 with 10 men gives the advantage to the opposition.”I’ve seen it on the video. At the time, from our position on the bench, I don’t think either myself or Arsene (Wenger) had a strong opinion on the incident.
“We now have the benefit of TV replays, and those replays suggest to me he was a little bit unlucky because I don’t think he actually dived to tackle the player. He actually dived in front of the ball to try and stop it being played down the line, and the player got his legs caught up with him and twisted his knee. But I was pleased to see there was no serious damage to him because he was able to play the second half.
“Joe Cole has got an unblemished record – he’d previously never been sent off and had very few yellow cards. Everyone who has watched him play will agree he does not go in for ‘blood-curdling tackles’, as I heard it described by a radio reporter. The fact the player wasn’t seriously injured means we might just be fortunate enough that an appeal might go in our favour.
“It will be a big loss if he is suspended. We will look at the video again and try in someway to find out from referees and experts whether we do have a case for an appeal.”I don’t want a frivolous appeal, that’s for sure, but it’s a bit early in the day to ask me the question if we will appeal.”
Reporters were also keen to quiz Hodgson on the thinking behind his decision to hand Javier Mascherano a starting berth against the Gunners, despite the Argentina captain last month expressing a desire to leave Anfield. However, the manager confirmed the Reds are still yet to receive any bids for the midfielder and insisted he will, therefore, continue to utilise him in the team.
Hodgson replied: “His performance didn’t surprise me. He is an outstanding player and he and Gerrard were absolutely excellent in the centre of the field. He is a top quality player – one of the best at his job in the world and he showed that once again today.
“It’s only speculation from the mass media, if I am brutally honest. We’ve had no offer for Javier Mascherano. He is playing at Liverpool and how many clubs could he move to better or on the same level? As yet, we have not received any offers from anyone.
“There are two weeks to go (in the transfer window) and you never know. Some of these clubs, for reasons best known to themselves, like to come in with offers on August 28 or 29.
“The fact is, we want to keep him here and will keep him here unless an offer comes along which is correct. By that I mean, is in keeping with his value and one we think would be wrong for us to turn down because we have said if that offer comes in we will accept it. “But at the moment it’s not there – it’s not even on the horizon.”
Asked whether he would consider playing Mascherano in Thursday’s Europa League tie with Trabzonspor at Anfield, Hodgson said: “Of course I would play him on Thursday. “He picked up an injury today, unfortunately. I hope it’s not too serious but he’s got a slight tightness in his muscle, which is why he had to come off. We hope it’s not a pull but it will have to be assessed tomorrow. But why wouldn’t I play him? “He is a Liverpool player and I hope he will continue to be a Liverpool player. For me, he will always be available for selection until the day comes when he’s no longer here.”
Meanwhile, Hodgson reflected on his first Barclays Premier League game in charge of Liverpool and admitted he couldn’t have asked for much more. And the gaffer is confident the manner of his team’s performance bodes well for the challenges that lay in wait in 2010-11.
He said: “It was a great debut. You can’t ask for much better than a top team like Arsenal coming here and a full house with everyone singing. The atmosphere was fantastic. “It was everything I expected. I thought the fans would be right behind the team and I think we gave them every reason to get behind us.
“That is very positive for the future because there are 37 tough matches to play. We all know it’s going to be tough this year and every expert is saying it’s going to be tougher than ever for a team to win the league, and I think we all agree that is more than likely. “So it was good to at least show we’ve got the spirit to do well this season and now we have to keep working to make ourselves a better team.”
He continued: “I don’t think there is a better ground for atmosphere (than Anfield). There are a lot of good grounds in this country where the atmosphere is very good, but Anfield is one of the footballing temples alongside places like the San Siro, Nou Camp and Bernabeu. “They are legendary footballing temples for the simple reason the crowds make it such exciting, exhilarating places to play.”