A banner hanging from the away end declared "Same Old Faces, Different Places''. Now those same old faces of Liverpool's loyal support will be appearing in different places, in the less glamourous outposts of the Europa League, which they fall into as Group E's third team.
Related ArticlesLiverpool hopes dashed weeks agoChampions League actionChampions League tablesChampions League fixturesArsenal 2 Standard Liège 0Rangers 0 Stuttgart 2The target now is the Hamburg final. "Germany, Germany; we're the most famous team in Europe and we're off to Germany,'' chanted Liverpool's fans.
Having started smoothly along the sweeping boulevard towards Real Madrid for the May 22 final with a 1-0 victory over Debrecen on Sep 16 at Anfield, a similar scoreline secured by David Ngog here sent Liverpool onto Europe's B roads. Fiorentina fans will be crowing when the Italians visit Anfield on Dec 9.
The Kop's reaction to Rafael Benitez will be worth observing. The Spaniard's position remains safe. He has the support of the club's managing director, Christian Purslow, and the majority of the fans but falling out of the Champions League and facing a battle to finish fourth in the Premier League is embarrassing. He dare not lose Sunday's neighbourly scrap game at Goodison Park.
His players raged hard against the dying of their Champions League light. Ngog took his goal well and looked lively as Liverpool's frontrunner. Javier Mascherano certainly impressed in central midfield against Debrecen.
Having watched a DVD of Real Madrid on their coach en route to the Ferenc Puskas Stadium, Debrecen then emerged on to the field in an all-white strip but the similarities with Bernabeu's finest ended there. Group E's whipping boys were there for the taking, and Liverpool duly stormed into an early lead through Ngog assisted by some frail defending.
The Mediocre Magyars failed to deal with Liverpool's attack, launched by Fabio Aurelio, who occupied the left-sided attacking position as Yossi Benayoun's hamstring was deemed too tight to risk, particularly with the derby looming on Sunday.
After four minutes, Aurelio drifted out to the right, turned and hoisted the ball left-footed to the far-post where Jamie Carragher nodded it back. Debrecen's rearguard again faltered, allowing the unmarked Ngog to flick the ball past Vukasin Poleksic, the hosts' keeper.
Relieved if far from reprieved, Liverpool were now in the mood, playing with pace and confidence. Aurelio tried his luck from range, sending a shot snaking just wide. A flowing move then saw the ball fizz between Daniel Agger, Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt before Ngog's effort was saved by Poleksic.
Liverpool briefly let their guard slip. Debrecen, suddenly moving with greater adventure, rolled forward, Gergely Rudolf heading wide. On the Hungarians came again. Lucas (twice) and Javier Mascherano made important interceptions. Benitez's men responded to the threat, Gerrard setting up Ngog, whose shot was stopped by Poleksic.
Back came Debrecen, Rudolf attempting to summon up the spirit of Puskas against the English. More Cantering Sergeant than Galloping Major, Rudolf still worried Liverpool's defence and his strong shot was blocked by Carragher. The force remained with Liverpool, although news of Vargas' penalty in Florence soon filtered through.
With Fiorentina leading, and Liverpool seemingly heading towards the Europa League, the half-time lyrics from Pink's song "Sober'' spitting out of the stadium speakers sounded ominously prophetic: "Why do I feel this party's over''.
Liverpool's players were concentrating so hard that they did not realise Fiorentina were ahead until informed at the interval. Despite the Tannoy announcement, despite the cheers from the Debrecen fans, despite the sudden shouts of defiance from the considerable entourage from Merseyside, Liverpool remained unaware.
Commendably, Liverpool kept believing. Mascherano kept urging the team on. Kuyt and Johnson kept scampering down the right. Insua and Aurelio kept lifting in threatening balls from the left. Ngog kept showing, offering an outlet. Gerrard, still not match sharp, charged into the box, demanding a fine save from Poleksic just before the hour-mark. This was a highly professional performance from Benitez's side.
Faced with wave after red wave, Debrecen went for broke, switching from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 with Adamo Coulibaly joining Rudolf in attack. With the Frenchman distracting Liverpool's defence, Debrecen and Rudolf enjoyed some promising moments. When Insua dawdled in possession, Rudolf seized on the ball, darting in the ball and squealing for a penalty when challenged by Insua.
The Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, rightly waved play on. Ten minutes later, Rudolf again went down, this time under a challenge from Mascherano and again appealed, again declined by the well-positioned Kuipers.
Stirred, Liverpool sought the comfort blanket of a second. Agger embarked on an elegant run to the edge of the Debrecen area before squaring the ball to Gerrard. Slightly off-balance, Liverpool's captain miscued his shot.
As the life began to drain from their Champions League campaign, Liverpool still fought, still chased a second, although when Aurelio lofted a free-kick almost into the Danube a degree of frustration crept in. "Come on, boys,'' screamed a Liverpool fan.
Benitez then clearly felt Ngog was tiring, so he introduced Benayoun with 14 minutes remaining and pushed Kuyt up front. A second almost arrived when Aurelio bent in a good corner and Carragher headed back across but just wide.
Yet Rudolf was continuing to alarm Benitez's defence and only Reina's reflexes preserved Liverpool's lead. Reina then made a superb block to thwart Coulibaly.
The winter of discontent is now upon Benitez.