The debate over goal-line technology in football and the overwhelming need for it dominates the headlines yet again this week, in a season which has seen no small amount of controversy regarding officials, decisions and the rules of the game. Following on from Chelsea’s “ghost goal”, awarded to the Blues by Martin Atkinson in the F.A. Cup semi-final against Tottenham several weeks ago, the result of the final of the World’s oldest and most prestigious domestic cup competition has been decided by another crucial, borderline call as to whether the whole of the ball had crossed the whole of the line.
Liverpool and Chelsea met at the home of English football, Wembley Stadium, on Saturday for the show-piece F.A. Cup final. Winning the trophy was of vital importance for both clubs as neither has enjoyed the best of seasons so far in 2011/12. Liverpool and their boss, Kenny Dalglish, needed victory to add the F.A. Cup to the Carling Cup, which they lifted in February, to give a shine to their season and take the focus off an unimpressive league showing. F.A. Cup glory would have vindicated Kenny Dalglish’s transitional squad and, along with the League Cup, would have been concrete evidence that progress is being made.
Chelsea’s league form has also been hit and miss in the current campaign and, despite having replaced former manager Andre Villas Boas with Roberto di Matteo midway through the season, the club look set to miss out on the Champions’ League positions. Although they have made it to this year’s Champions’ League final, the Blues face a monumental task to overturn Bayern Munich on the Germans’ home soil, so lifting the F.A. Cup would have been a guarantee of silverware and would have given the interim boss a slim chance of being asked to stay on in a permanent role.
The opening exchanges were cagey, to say the least, from both sides, less cat and mouse, more mouse and mouse. Having said that, the two sides were equally in the game and, from the opening nine minutes or so, it looked as if it was going to be a long afternoon of tactical sparring, with chances and goals at a premium.
That forecast didn’t hold up for too long , however, as, in the eleventh minute, a series of individual errors by Liverpool players allowed Chelsea to take the lead through Ramires. First, Jay Spearing again showed that he is not good enough to play at the highest level, by terribly miscontrolling a dropping ball under no pressure in the Chelsea half; his lapse was seized upon by Mata who fed the ball through into the path of Ramires.
Jose Enrique should have collected the pass ahead of the Brazilian, however, his hesitation and subsequent naivety, allowed the pacey midfielder to reach it first and power ahead of the Spanish defender. Ramires advanced into the area and hit a poor shot, designed only to hit the target, straight at Reina on his near post. The Liverpool goalkeeper should, undoubtedl,y have been equal to it, however, his less than impressive season continued as he failed to cover himself in glory once more, going down to early and allowing the ball to go in off his legs.
Following the goal, the match failed to ignite. Liverpool came close a few minutes later when Ivanovic blocked Bellamy’s effort with Cech seemingly beaten, however the Reds were neither able to produce any sustained attacking threat, nor keep the ball in Chelsea’s final third. Suarez cut a frustrated figure as he was left isolated up-front and was unable to impose himself as Gerrard was forced to drop deeper and deeper to aid Henderson and the, overawed, Jay Spearing. Having said that, Chelsea offered little to trouble the Reds going forward and were seemingly happy to go in at the interval just 1-0 to the good.
Liverpool had been woefully short (no pun intended) as an attacking force in the first-half and many Reds fans were hoping to see the introduction of Andy Carroll right from the getgo after the break. He did not emerge, however, and despite a re-shuffle in the formation which saw Bellamy join Luis Suarez in attack, little fluency was found.
Liverpool were punished for Dalglish’s and Clarke’s hesitancy just seven minutes later. Didier Drogba, always the man for the big occasion, notched the eighth Wembley goal of his career for the Blues. After receiving the ball from Lampard, the latter having brushed off the attentions of Spearing far too easily, he isolated Martin Skrtel and finished neatly, through the Slovakian’s legs, wide of Reina and into the bottom left corner of the Spaniard’s goal.
Moments later, Dalglish made the change that every Liverpool fan had been waiting for, replacing the hapless Spearing with the 6ft 4in frame of Andy Carroll’s raw striking power; and it had an immediate effect. At once Liverpool carried much more of a threat, Chelsea struggled to deal with Carroll’s strength and presence, and he made his mark just nine minutes after his introduction.
Receiving the ball in the area from Stewart Downing’s tackle on Bosingwa, the £35 million man turned John Terry inside out, making space to crash a left-foot strike into the roof of the net, leaving Cech no chance. The goal floored Chelsea, who had been coasting, and Carroll was again involved as Liverpool created three good shooting opportunites from the edge of the box in the proceeding five minutes, which unfortunately for them, they couldn’t take; Henderson, Johnson and Gerrard all misfiring from Carroll knock-downs.
Liverpool were now massively in the ascendency with the Blues able to offer little or no resistance. Suarez was the next to go close, cutting in from the left side, he hit a twenty yard effort, which Cech did well to get down to and push round his right-hand post for a corner, before Carroll headed over when well placed.
Then came the moment of controversy. Eight minutes from time, Glen Johnson cut into the box from the right-hand side; Suarez took over and clipped a delightful cross to the unmarked Carroll on the far post, the striker met it full on the forehead and powered his header goalwards. Cech somehow got his hand to the ball and pushed it onto the underside of the bar. Carroll wheeled away believing fully that he’d scored, as the Liverpool bench erupted, it seemed as if the Reds had mounted another incredible cup final comeback.
Referee Dowd failed to award the goal, as his assistant failed to confirm that the ball had crossed the line. Replays were just about inconclusive, however, having seen still photos, it seems that the whole of the ball was indeed over the whole of the line. Carroll and Suarez were adamant as was Kenny Dalglish at the time, however, referee Dowd was unmoved.
The referee’s assistant was not on the byline and, due to the difficulty involved, cannot be blamed for his failure to signal a goal, however, goal-line technology would surely have given the correct decision either way and that is why it is so necessary. Football matches and therefore cups, leagues, glory, failure, careers and ultimately the lives of those involved, hinge on such narrow margins, with a few milimetres making all the difference; these calls have to be correct. The F.A. are reportedly set to test pilot the new technology in a non-league match over the summer; provided the test works, the implementation cannot come quickly enough
It took the Liverpool players a few minutes to get over the disappointment of losing out again this seaon on another refereeing call, but they refound their momentum in the closing stages, with both Suarez and Carroll coming close. It wasn’t to be for Liverpool, however, as Chelsea clung on grimly to win a game in which they had been the better team, just, for sixty minutes, but in which they had been thoroughly battered for the final half-hour.
Kenny Dalglish lamented Liverpool’s slow start, naivety and inexperience as major factors in their defeat, all of which undoubtedly played a part, however I can’t get away from the feeling that team selection also played a role. Had Andy Carroll started the game in place of Spearing, with Gerrard and Henderson in central midfield, the performance and the result would, I believe, have been much more favourable for the Reds.
Chelsea and manager Roberto di Matteo were delighted with the victory, which was the Blues’ fourth F.A.Cup triumph in six years, and can now focus on the Champions’ league final in a fortnight’s time. However they face a match, arguably, more important for them than the one they’ve just won, when they travel to Anfield in midweek for the re-arranged league fixture against Dalglish’s side. Chelsea are desperate for points in the race for fourth place, however, Liverpool will be hell bent on getting their revenge as they look to finish above Everton in an attempt to salvage some pride from a bruising Premier League campaign.
Cup image by Bounder. Chelsea image by Sarflondondunc.
Carroll Image by Danny Molyneux.