In a way, I did a pretty good job of predicting the weekend’s matches. I correctly called one win out of two for England’s women, a win for Wales and a win for Liverpool. The only things I got wrong were a washout in the other women’s match (I predicted a Kiwi win) and the England men winning their T20 (by quite a lot, as it transpired). So on the face of it, I did okay. It was the details that went a bit awry though.
First off, an English victory in the T20. We are the World Champions and world number one in that format, but I never feel comfortable saying that we will win. I know I’ve said it before, but there is a huge element of luck in T20s and I think England have been almost more fortunate than good in the past. Yesterday though saw a very skilful performance by young Jonny Bairstow who hit an unbeaten 60 to propel us to 150-7 after a slow start. Once again though, it was the bowlers who really won the match for us. The captain led from the front with 2-12 from 3.2 overs and was ably backed up by Finn (as usual), Swann (2-17) and Dernbach (1-13 from three overs). Pakistan were 33-4 after the powerplay and all but out of the match at 50-5. Afridi and Hammad Azam had a go near the end, but it was already too late and when Azam was out Pakistan capitulated. Afridi started turning down singles and looked like he was going to just bat out the 20 overs, before getting impatient and skewing a catch. One of the biggest factors in the run chase was England’s outstanding fielding. Of the ten wickets to fall, nine of them were caught (with the other run out) and at least eight of the catches were difficult ones. If England had dropped even a few of those the match would have been a lot closer, but as it was Pakistan never had a chance.
That was going on at the same time as the Six Nations match between England and Wales. Whilst I correctly predicted the outcome, I didn’t expect England to make their match so close. England actually led until fairly late at Twickenham, coming back well after a dismal first 20 minutes. It is a mark of how well they did that the loss was still gutting, with Wales getting a very late try and England not quite being able to match it at the death. Still, England can take a lot of positives from that match. After a horror start to the match that saw Wales completely dominate possession England turned it around and dominated the next 20 minutes to almost the same extent, playing a surprisingly fluent passing game. They had good width and were able to force Wales back well. The one thing they could not do, however, was get over the tryline, though it took an incredible tackle from, as I recall, Sam Warburton to deny Manu Tuilangi at one point. What England will particularly rue though is the ten minute man advantage that they wasted. After kicking the penalty to go 12-6 in front, they did not get possession for the next five minutes as Wales held on to the ball and gradually worked it down the pitch. England did eventually manage to get a lineout on the Welsh 22, but made an absolute hash of it despite being a man up. By the time Wales were back to 15 they had scored a penalty and had the momentum, which they didn’t really relinquish until England’s last ditch effort to bring the scores level. It was, as I said, a very disappointing result in the end but there is at least more cause for optimism ahead of the last two matches. Wales, meantime, having won the Triple Crown have a great chance for a Grand Slam. Effectively, they only need to beat France at the Millennium Stadium.
The big result was the League Cup though. I said that I thought Cardiff would score a goal, but Liverpool would score at least two. I was half right: Cardiff did go in front in the first half, but Liverpool equalised in the second. Cardiff’s goal came against the run of play, and although they did have other chances (including a heart-stopping moment a few minutes before the second half ended) Liverpool were always the more positive side. We had what seemed like dozens of corners (I lost count), hit the woodwork a couple of times and it seemed like we were almost constantly threatening. Whilst there was some of the profligacy in front of goal that has plagued us all season, Cardiff were also very good. They never seemed to tire in defence and kept charging down shots and attempts to pass the ball in the box. The effort looked like it had worn them down in the end though, as after all the chances we had had it was a relatively meek one by Kuyt that put us in front 2-1 in extra time. After that was where Cardiff really deserve credit though, they did not drop their heads, they did not give up. They came back, put us under pressure and got the last gasp equaliser. I’m sure the adrenaline of a big match helped, but how many teams could go behind after 108 minutes and still have the energy to come back in the 118th? It was a phenomenal show of fight from them and they deserve no end of praise for it. I thought that it would be enough to win them the match, myself. We have been very poor at normal penalties this season and apart from Gerrard and Kuyt I did not know on whom we could rely to take them. Fortunately Suarez, after his howler last week, was not amongst the five. I had been pessimistic to start, so when Gerrard had his saved and Charlie Adam followed up with an attempt that looked like he was aiming for the net at Anfield instead of Wembley, I was despairing. Kuyt was as reliable as ever though, and some hope appeared when the Cardiff players missed badly too. In the end it was Downing and Johnson who scored the vital last two penalties, much to my astonishment and delight, before poor Anthony Gerrard, Stevie’s cousin, missed for Cardiff.
I’m still, of course, ecstatic about having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and finally getting some silverware. King Kenny is also now the first person to win a career treble as both a player and manager, though he’s helped by having done some of them at the same time, of course! And I could be wrong, but I think the win also guarantees European football at Anfield next year. Whilst we still need to push hard for a top four finish, it’s nice to know that we have the Europa League on which to fall back should that not go our way. We’ll be able to help ourselves in that respect soon too, as our next Premiership match is at home to Arsenal who rather annoyingly won today.
Ultimately, it’s been a pretty good weekend.