Draw with Everton shows need for reinforcements at Anfield
Liverpool 2 Everton 2: Just for a moment it seemed that this stadium had never known anything but the old Liverpool way.
The dominant flags waving in the stiff breeze, when the anthem of "You'll Never Walk Alone" was played, depicted Kenny Dalglish and Bob Paisley and the wonderful understatement about the new manager's appearance – the teams were through their handshakes before he finally popped out – were a reminder of the way they always used to do things here.
But Dalglish can only have been left with the thought last night that the club is unrecognisable from the one he once knew from the dugout. He was as upbeat afterwards as he has been since his re-appointment – "this was a very positive day for us," Dalglish said – but the squad bears no resemblance to the one he inherited from Joe Fagan in the shadow of Heysel, 26 years ago.
It was 2-2 against Everton this time, not 4-4, yet while Dalglish has always kicked himself for being talked out of installing Jan Molby as a temporary sweeper to quell Tony Cottee during that crazy FA Cup tie which brought the curtain down on his Liverpool management 20 years ago, there are precious few reinforcements on hand now. Martin Sktrel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger are the palest imitation of Alan Hansen, the man Dalglish installed as captain when he was last appointed manager and that is one of many problems.
It was in small part because he thought Hansen brought luck that Dalglish made his compatriot captain and the new manager insists that good fortune is still the critical factor Liverpool lack. But his suggestion after this game that both Everton's goals were blessed with luck – one from a corner which should have been a throw-in; the other from a ball lost when Martin Kelly was pole-axed by Victor Anichebe, as Dalglish viewed it – obscured the lack of positional sense that allowed Sylvain Distin to leap in front of Skrtel to head Everton's equaliser.
It also overlooked the ease with which Leon Osman danced around Kyrgiakos to thread a ball through for Jermaine Beckford to send his side ahead in the six extraordinary minutes which threatened to destroy the homecoming. Dalglish just stood silently and shook his head when Beckford's goal went in.
There are some things for Dalglish to build on. They include the performance of 19-year-old Kelly, the right-back who offered more service for Fernando Torres than any other in red yesterday and whose emergence has seen Glen Johnson pushed to the unnatural position of left-back. "If he keeps playing like that, he could be a problem for Glen," Dalglish said, not entirely in jest. Torres' display in a first half during which he terrorised Distin and fired against the inside of the post also revealed the restorative powers that a former Liverpool goalscoring record signing is having on the present one.
But Liverpool's reliance on counter-attacking football revealed the painful shortage of creation available to the new manager. An inquiry has been made about Ajax striker Luis Suarez, with Tottenham's pursuit of the 23-year-old slowed by Harry Redknapp's doubts about the Uruguayan's technical ability. Courageous though the performance of 22-year-old Liverpudlian Jay Spearing might have as a midfielder dwarfed by Marouane Fellaini – Dalglish later declared that his birthright had nothing to do with it – he is not a player to command Premier League matches. Dalglish made light of suggestions he will meet his club's principal owner John W Henry this week. "I'm not planning to do anything and I'm not saying that to be disrespectful. We will sit down and have a chat and hopefully they might buy us a bit of dinner."
But he needs reinforcements. This side, still six points off the bottom, is a long way from any kind of European vintage. Dalglish has always regretted his reluctance to spend quickly when he became Liverpool's player-manager, though the failure to do so was the difference between first and second place in the 1986-87 season. In this unpredictable season, none dare dismiss a more severe penalty now.
Liverpool did seem to be on their way when Johnson did well to advance down his unnatural flank, switch to his right foot and cross well for Dirk Kuyt, whose header and shot were both parried away by Tim Howard before Raul Meireles followed up, thumping in his first Liverpool goal with the trademark right-foot bullet which was so much feared when he played Porto. But David Moyes, who felt some of his derby debutants "did not recognise what was required" for the fixture, was justifiably rewarded for displaying the greater ambition.
Moyes lost Louis Saha to a thigh injury and was also without Steven Pienaar, who informed him before the game that he was "not in the right place" to play while struggling to agree personal terms with Chelsea, whose £3m bid for the South African is the one Everton have accepted. ("If Tottenham offer the same money that might change," Moyes said.)
Yet Everton, not Liverpool, were the side playing two-up and the hosts' anaemic response to falling 2-1 behind seemed to suggest the homecoming was ruined until Kuyt's right-footed 68th-minute penalty brought salvation. Howard was the culprit, making clear contact with Maxi Rodriguez as he tried to control a miscued Skrtel shot which skidded into the six-yard area. "The goalkeeper never goes for the player but the player has to be clever," was Moyes' honest assessment.
Dalglish said that he does have more options, though it seemed to be a sign of the club's desperation that he namechecked midfielder Christian Poulsen and right-back Paul Konchesky, two totems of the Roy Hodgson era who did not even make his squad yesterday. "If we can get Christian and Paul back onside that would make the squad a bit deeper."
Liverpool are currently marketing a product called The Dalglish Experience, which includes replicas of his 1985-86 season shirt and Cup winners' medal, with a DVD of the 1986 FA Cup Final victory over Everton.
It sounds like a museum piece and if Dalglish cannot muster something from his playing staff that few seem to believe is there, the past is all he will belong to.