Liverpool 0 Wolves 1: The sharply ironic barbs of “Hodgson for England” rained down on the Liverpool manager last night as his side fell to a dispiriting and justified defeat to the club with the worst away record in all four English divisions.
Wolves had registered just one away point all season and had not won away since Upton Park last March until a Liverpool side displaying all the uncertainty and lack of ambition which has characterised the Hodgson era capitulated to them.
After the irony — delivered when Hodgson, his side a goal down, introduced Ryan Babel for David Ngog — came the indignity, for the manager of renewed chants of ‘Dalglish.’
Liverpool could hardly have asked for a better choice of opposition to see out the year than a side against whom they have won 13 of the last 14 league games, keeping nine clean sheets.
The memory of Avi Cohen, the man whose goal won the 1980 league title and who died this week, aged 54, from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident, was evidence that this club does not belong in the place it has occupied for the miserable past 12 months. Cohen was remembered before kick-off.
But the keen anticipation of the first game for nearly three weeks disappeared into the dank night mist just before kick-off. Steven Gerrard's return for the first time since his hamstring removed him from the side six weeks ago ought to have made a difference, but instead Hodgson struggled to decide how best to deploy him.
The defensive midfield role Gerrard unexpectedly took up, breaking up the holding partnership of Lucas and Raul Meireles which has started to work so well, left Liverpool clunking through the first half.
He and the Portuguese international swapped roles before the break, reverted back after the interval, but the muffled boos which greeted the home side's departure reflected the desperate lack of incision. One flash of inspiration from Fernando Torres almost made the difference just seven minutes in. The Spaniard spotted Meireles on the right and sent a 20-yard, crossfield free kick zeroing to him. But Meireles' shot was saved instinctively by Wayne Hennessey, and Richard Stearman, a critical figure in the Wolves rearguard, cleared. Stearman also leapt to navigate a deep Gerrard cross out of touch before David Ngog could pounce on it.
Wolves created even less but looked the more inventive. They were rewarded six minutes past the hour, when an indecisive header by Sotorios Kyrgiakos — preferred despite Daniel Agger's return to fitness — allowed Sylvan Ebanks-Blake time to thread a ball between the Greek defender and Martin Skrtel for Stephen Ward to place a shot past Pepe Reina for his first league goal.
It was Hodgson's decision to remove David Ngog in place of Ryan Babel, six minutes later, which sent the murmurs of dissatisfaction into full blown mutiny on the Kop.
Babel is not a popular figure at any corner of this stadium but Ngog had actually contributed more than Torres. First came the boos, then those ironic chants, then the legend of ‘Dalglish’. Hodgson, in his technical box, did not glance up but the predicament almost graduated into a calamity when another scramble in the Liverpool box left Glen Johnson to block desperately.
As Wolves continued to press, the cheers which greeted the arrival of Fabio Aurelio, a symbol of the Rafael Benitez era, for Paul Konchesky, one of Hodgson's were another message.
Five Liverpool players were offside when Skrtel rose to head in an 88th minute Gerrard free kick and Liverpool fell to their second home defeat to Wolves in 60 years.
The visiting fans had the last shout. “How s*** must you be,” they sang, “We're winning away.” It could be Hodgson’s final song.