By Neil Mundy (TTT Subscriber NeilM).
Anfield. Last Tuesday night. About twenty past ten. Liverpool and Stoke are locked in a gripping penalty shoot out. At one miss each, and with Stoke going first, the pressure is on all Liverpool players to score to keep The Reds in the League Cup – a competition they’re looking to win for the ninth time.
Lucas Leiva strides forward. It’s gone to sudden death. He needs to score this, or Liverpool’s Wembley dreams are over. I fear for him. Not Lucas. Please. Out of all people, don’t let him miss, after the turbulent career he’s had. But I fear the die has already been cast. The Brazilian has already been portrayed in some quarters – unfairly – as symbolic of the club’s demise. Written off as average by pundits almost as soon as he stepped onto the Goodison turf to replace our captain in one of the great modern Merseyside derbies, to his detractors (and there are still some of those) the Brazilian midfielder embodies a near-decade of underachievement. ‘How has he constantly been able to get in the first team?’ they ask. You sense even now there is a suspicion about him from pundits, that it only takes one game for them to speculate that his legs have fallen off and he should be on his way out of the club, bombed out forever, ‘just not good enough.’
In my mind there’s the worry that despite all of this being patent nonsense, he’s going to miss and then they’ll claim he’s right, the detractors. ‘That bloody Lucas, he cost us. Again.’ You can imagine the opposing fans sneering as they talk about how he’s never been quite to Liverpool standard, or how he can’t match up to other midfielders physically, or that he commits too many silly fouls. For him, more than anyone else, I worry that it’ll become a career-defining, maybe even career-ending, moment. People will never discuss the tackles, the sneaky bookings he’s taken, or even the odd goal he’s notched up. They’ll just talk about the miss. The miss that hasn’t even happened yet as he places the ball down on the Anfield Road penalty spot and begins to back off in anticipation of his run up before he places his fateful strike.
And then he makes me look a complete nincompoop and scores easily. Of course he does. Stoke’s keeper Jack Butland is sent the wrong way as he places his penalty high into the top right hand corner and then – having been given grief by the away fans just previously – he gives them some back, with great gusto, to the joy of the home crowd. Lucas levels the shoot out at 5-5, and two penalties later, thanks to some great efforts from two other, more recent, boo-boy targets– a fantastic stop from Simon Mignolet and a cool finish from Joe Allen – the Reds are heading to Wembley to take part in their 12th League Cup Final.
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