Liverpool: That City Win Was An Incredible Tribute To The 96
What is belief if it is not tested?
There were times this afternoon when it appeared that the dream was on the ropes, that the expense and quality of a Manchester City side sparked into revival via the sheer mercurial brilliance of David Silva, were about to wrestle control of the title charge from Liverpool’s hands.
Initially though, City had no idea what had hit them. They were unprepared for the cauldron that greeted their entrance to the field, unprepared for the passion that flowed from the support, the passion defined by the welcome afforded Liverpool’s arrival at Anfield.
Massed hordes, flags, flares, songs; the welcome of champions. They were unprepared for the emotion that filled the day, the fact that every moment of the day, every moment of this club’s existence is for the 96; that the dream of winning the league this season, after so long, in the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough as justice appears ever closer, feels like destiny.
More prosaically, City were unprepared for our ever-changing shape, our ideal that formation is a fluid concept, our movement, our pace, our threat. A 2-0 lead at half time was no more than we deserved. A third, a fourth could have easily followed.
But you cannot rule out quality such as City’s. Their second half revival was compelling, ludicrous, overwhelming. At 70 minutes there was only one team that seemed likely to win this (possible) title decider. That team didn’t win it.
The question in Liverpool's minds before the game was ‘will Vincent Kompany be fit to play?”. Kompany makes City tick. His presence at the back reassures those in front of him, allows Toure to be Toure, brings calm and organisation allowing creativity.
That his name made the team sheet was a concern, and then that his scuffed clearance in the City box presented an alert Coutinho to convert a far more difficult chance than those that he had spurned earlier was wonderful irony.
The remaining fifteen minutes became rearguard action, became resistance and resilience. And yes, a Martin Skrtel clearance that appeared to be a header in real time was actually a forearm smash of the ball and City should have had a penalty - and a chance to level from it. Let’s call that ‘evening out’ then shall we? Let’s say that makes up for the perfectly valid Raheem Sterling goal at the Etihad being adjudged offside and add it to his nerveless torture of the City defence to open the scoring after six minutes.
What does all this mean then?
Look at the face of Steven Gerrard at the final whistle. Look at the emotion, the huddle that he pulled his team into as he wiped the tears from his eyes.
Those tears are not just for the fact that Liverpool stand on the verge of something that nobody dreamt possible at the beginning of the season, something that Gerrard likely thought never to happen in his career, as the media discussed in the moments following. Gerrard’s family know the pain of the loss at Hillsborough.
There can be few unaware that Steven Gerrard’s cousin was the youngest of the 96. Steven Gerrard knows exactly what this victory means, exactly what the importance of it is, exactly who Liverpool do all this for.