This, then, is the fate of the 21st Century Liverpool fan; to rush into the embrace of blind optimism at the merest hint of revival only to have hope dashed once again by sheer inconsistency. Liverpool have now spent twenty years steadfastly refusing to build up a convincing head of steam. Twenty years demonstrating quite happily that they can tend toward being a one man team and that one man is generally whoever is missing on that particular night.
Tonight was the turn of Daniel Sturridge. A bright start to his Anfield career had built toward the centre forward masterclass that he produced against Manchester City last Sunday; the star turn in a (wasted) dominant performance. His absence tonight, the result of the injury incurred against City could have given Fabio Borini (himself recently returned from enforced absence) chance to belatedly demonstrate his ability in a central role ahead of Luis Suarez in any variation of our favoured 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 formations. Brendan Rodgers opted instead to field a 4-4-1-1 set up with Jonjo Shelvey playing in the hole behind Suarez. Borini's later appearance as substitute may illustrate the reasoning behind this decision; he still shows no indication that he is in any danger of adapting to the English game.
Shelvey splits opinion; he looks to be positive, aims to stay involved and will attempt outlandishly creative ideas. Unfortunately these ideas fail far more often than they succeed. He is young and far from the finished article but at the moment nobody is entirely sure whether he will ever fulfil the potential he is sometimes capable of showing. Tonight he appeared to have very little concept of what role he had actually been given, unsure of his positioning and unable to link successfully with either midfield or lone striker. Sturridge's absence ensured that, once more, we lacked bodies in the box at any point during the game, all our players seemingly happier to drift wide to produce balls into the position that they should have been occupying.The formation also stranded Henderson on the left of an orthodox midfield four, lessening the impact he has had of late.When coupled with the weakest performance that Steven Gerrard has produced for some time and a showing by Glenn Johnson which was entirely out of keeping with the tone of his season to date, the result was a disjointed, wasteful first half; a goal from Shelvey correctly ruled offside, a shot from distance by Stewart Downing caught comfortably by the keeper and a header tipped over the bar being the only moments of real note.
West Bromwich Albion had perfectly executed their game plan, pressing our back four high up the pitch and pressurising our midfield into carelessly conceding possession.
The second half saw increased tempo and threat from Liverpool foiled by a succession of excellent saves by Ben Foster; a fine catch from a rare Borini shot on target goal line clearance from Henderson's flicked back heel and an outstanding block from a Gerrard shot, readjusting the angle of his body and clawing the ball away from goal with his weaker hand.
There are 40,000 of us who can now say that we saw Luis Suarez finally given a penalty after threatening all season to party should this miracle occur. As Gerrard stepped forward there were 40,000 of us who didn't believe for a second that the ball would trouble the net. A low save to Foster's left ensured the much anticipated party was quelled immediately.
Obviously in the face of such dominance West Brom's first shot on goal, in the 80th minute forced a corner which led inexorably to them taking the lead. From here Liverpool's performance slumped to a series of abject lows; all shape disappeared, ball control deserted usually reliable players, amateur level unforced errors became the norm. The last 15 minutes were dire; Lukaku's deciding second goal was no surprise. The exodus which followed was quite unlike anything that I have seen at Anfield for very long time.
And this is where we are; victory tonight and again on Sunday against Swansea could have pushed us into 6th place (that we now aspire to 6th is testament to how far we've fallen in the last four years). We lay instead in ninth position in the League. The table, as the cliche dictates, does not lie; we are a mid table team. We have the results of a mid table team and we have too many mid table players to threaten at the moment. We are capable of playing some excellent football, primarily (as ever) against the bigger teams but there is something in our mentality that prevents us from ever capitalising on positive results, positive performances and building a consistent run.
Our manager may be capable of achieving this consistency long term but in the short term seems worryingly unable to trust players that he has bought to fulfil his vision of how his Liverpool team should play. We have spent two decades now showing that we can match larger teams one on one on any given day. Tonight is another night where it feels like a long way back before we can once again claim to actually be one of those larger teams.
This article originally appeared on Mumbling into the Void.