Roy Hodgson admitted he was left thrilled by the character shown by Liverpool in their victory in Trabzonspor – but the boss was quick to play down his achievement of matching a long-standing Bill Shankly milestone.The Reds recovered from an early setback to book a place in the group stage of the Europa League thanks to a 2-1 victory in Turkey and ensure their European adventure for 2010-11 will continue.
In doing so, Hodgson became the first Liverpool manager since Shankly to win his first four European matches in charge – but he was keen to avoid any comparisons with the legendary Scot. “I think it would be remarkably immodest of me to claim any credit for that because I don’t think Bill Shankly played too many matches in the first qualifying rounds against Macedonia teams,” he told a post-match press conference in Trabzon. “I think if I want to be able to boast about the same number of consecutive victories as Shankly I might need to win the next 10.”
The hosts made a dream start to the evening by cancelling out the Reds’ 1-0 first-leg advantage through Teofilo Gutierrez’s early strike.Trabzonspor were good value for their lead as they dominated the opening 45 minutes – but an improved second-half display from Liverpool was rewarded when Remzi Giray Kacar put through his own net. Then, with just two minutes left on the clock, Dirk Kuyt pounced as goalkeeper Onur Kivrak failed to hold onto Dani Pacheco’s shot, allowing the Dutchman to secure a 2-1 win.
Hodgson reflected: “I was relieved in particular because when you play as well as we did throughout the game, create as many goal chances as we did, particularly in the second half, and really deserved to win the game, I was delighted we achieved it. “I thought it was a good performance from start to finish and we were very unlucky to go behind to a deflected shot so early in the game, but we showed great character to keep going and keep playing the right football.
“I am really pleased we have achieved a victory here against a team that is notoriously difficult to beat in Trabzon. Their record at home, both domestically and in European competitions, is very good. They are a good team, we knew that from Anfield, so I am really pleased with the victory. “I thought this was a very good victory and my delight at the end for the victory was partly to do with that. We were looking down the barrel here coming to Trabzon. You saw the incredible support this club has and you saw how fanatical the fans are, although I must say they behaved very, very well. “To get a result here was quite important and something that will stand us in good stead for plenty of other matches in the coming season.”
Liverpool’s victory was the first team they have beaten a Turkish side in Turkey – a feat achieved without the likes of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Maxi Rodriguez, Daniel Agger, Milan Jovanovic and Danny Wilson. Hodgson was buoyed by the response of his squad in the absence of some of the Reds’ senior stars, and feels a prolonged run in the Europa League will offer more of his players the opportunity of regular first-team action. He added: “It was important to win the game. It always is important to win games. I am hoping we will have a strong squad this year, and I think we are going to need it if we are going to play in the Europa League and the Premier League.
“You saw tonight, there were players who didn’t play against Arsenal and didn’t play against Manchester City, but they still came out and did a remarkably good job. “These games we will play in the Europa League will be very useful for us in that respect because we will have a chance to give people a regular game, which they might not get if we get a stable 11 together and those 11 tend to play most of the matches. “And also, Liverpool are a team with a remarkable European past and pedigree, so it would have been very sad to go out in the qualifying stages and none of these (players) had the chance to play in the group stage.”
The occasion was somewhat soured by the sight of a laser pen being shined on Pepe Reina during the first half. While disappointed with the incident, Hodgson admitted he was pleased with the response of Trabzonspor officials. “To be fair to them, these are things that unfortunately do happen in these European games,” he said. “It is unfortunate for the club, but I thought the club sorted it out very quickly and well.
“Of course it is bad public behaviour, but I would not hold the club particularly responsible and I would say the club seemed to sort it out fairly quickly. “Let’s hope this isn’t going to become a feature in football matches that people are going to try and spoil the game for anybody by doing something so foolish as to shine flash lights into players’ faces.”
He added: “We didn’t see it from the bench, but Pepe was very quick to get the message out, the referee was very quick to react and Trabzonspor were very quick to react as well.” Meanwhile, Hodgson was quizzed by reporters about the recent suggestions in some quarters that suggested Kuyt’s future may lie away from Anfield.
The player himself admitted afterwards he has no desire to leave Liverpool, and Hodgson said: “I have said all the long, there has been no offer for Dirk Kuyt, Dirk Kuyt is not for sale, so excuse me for not really understanding the speculation or being particularly happy now that he’s said he is staying because I have never doubted he was staying.
“Dirk Kuyt is a player I have always said is an important part of my plans for Liverpool Football Club. He is an important player at the club. I made it clear we don’t welcome any offers for him and he is not for sale. “As far as I’m concerned, he is someone I believe in and someone and I count on. It is important we improve the team around the likes of Gerrard, Reina, Torres and Kuyt – and not sell them and start all over again.”