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Liverpool have fallen a long way if they can find consolation in winning a second rate cup tie

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19 Feb 2010 01:06:47

Liverpool have fallen a long way if they can find consolation in winning a second rate cup tie

As the strains of You'll Never Walk Alone filtered from the tannoy prior to kick-off, Ian St John, hands deep in pockets, sang along quietly. To most devoted Liverpool followers, it comes naturally. Last night, however, was not an occasion about which St John or any other supporter could feel overly proud. No, this was a night from which lessons had to be learned. This, the Europa League, was a place which Liverpool must vow never to visit again.St John never won the European Cup, of course. For him, back in the Sixties and Seventies, the UEFA Cup was a competition very much worth winning. Reasons to be cheerful: David Ngog celebrates a goal that set up a hollow victory It was difficult to get into in the days when only one team entered the European Cup. As such, the standard was high and the trophy lifted after victory against Bruges in Belgium in 1976 was valuable currency, a stepping stone towards the really big prize that was lifted by Bob Paisley's team a year later. Since then, though, things have changed. That is why the picture in the Anfield press lounge of Gerard Houllier holding the UEFA Cup aloft in 2001 looks so out of place alongside portraits of Paisley, Kenny Dalglish and Joe Fagan. That is why the Europa League theme tune sounded so wrong as it accompanied the players out on to the field. The strains of Handel's Zadok the Priest, the tune that precedes Champions League battle, can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. By comparison, its Europa League equivalent sounds like the theme tune to the local news. Yes, this was a night to learn lessons. To ask how Liverpool got here. And, above all, to vow to make sure it doesn't happen again anytime soon. Anfield, to the fans' credit, was just about full. Liverpool had helped themselves by reducing ticket prices but, even so, such loyalty is admirable. The true greats: Liverpool managers Bill Shankly Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish and Rafa Benitez observe the mediocrity Before kick-off, the Kop paraded the usual array of banners. Paisley stared down from one, Benitez from another. Yes, they are a devoted bunch on Merseyside even if the embarrassment must sting. While Liverpool's players those who could stand it were watching Manchester United win in Milan on TV on Tuesday, last night's opponents, Unirea Urziceni, were playing a warm-up fixture against Northwich Vics. For the record, they won 1-0. What is certain, though, is that Liverpool must progress through this competition and do so with style. While European games can sometimes shift the focus from the Barclays Premier League, in this instance form in the Europa League would surely help Rafael Benitez's side build much-needed momentum in the domestic arena. Also, Liverpool have already come fourth to United, Arsenal and Chelsea in the Champions League. The last thing their battered pride needs now is to falter in the slipstream of Fulham and Everton in the big competition's younger brother. At least Benitez took things seriously. Liverpool may face an key game at Manchester City on Sunday but the team still featured the likes of Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. It sent out the right message. Used to glory: Liverpool fans Liverpool started brightly, too. The refrain of the Kop's pre-match anthem had been a little muted but the early football wasn't. Gerrard almost scored after 30 seconds, headed a chance wide and then Dirk Kuyt drove another shot narrowly wide. For Liverpool, though, an early goal is often so important. This is a team who can drown in anxiety. is a team who, deep down in their soul, don't trust themselves.In the stands, there was fretting, too And who can blame them? Liverpool have lost at home to Aston Villa, Lyon, Fiorentina, Arsenal and Reading this season. At one stage, someone in the crowd asked for 'movement'. In St John's heyday, there was never any shortage of that. Those who look back without learning are fools. As such, this was not a night for weepy sentiment. This Liverpool team must progress sometime soon. It is to be hoped that this strange night will one day be seen as a starting point.  Liverpool 1 Unirea Urzicini 0: David Ngog breaks Iron Curtain as Reds labour past RomaniansCarlos Tevez and Patrick Vieira to miss Manchester City's showdown with LiverpoolArsenal and Liverpool target Mauro Zarate threatens to walk out on LazioTalkSPORT pulls off major coup by snatching commentary rights from BBCLIVERPOOL FC


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