Liverpool 2 Coates 54, Kuyt 72
In the beginning it seemed as though today things might end differently for Liverpool. Against lower ranked opponents; against a side that started the day in the relegation zone. When Liverpool came out flying against a side low on confidence, a side that hadn't won a game in two months, it almost seemed as though they might be able to put a season filled with inconsistent performances against just such opposition behind them. To do that, though, they would need to break with recent tradition and find a way to score a few goals.
On this night, Stewart Downing started on the right with Dirk Kuyt on the left of an attacking three centred on Luis Suarez, while behind them Charlie Adam was the most advanced in a midfield trio. His inclusion after two games on the bench at the time seemed as surprising as it was inevitable, though at least having Jay Spearing and Steven Gerrard alongside him meant that he was largely free of any defensive responsibilities.
In that free role in the early going, he even quite nearly set up what would have been the first goal of the game when a thumped clearance off a QPR corner found a streaking Suarez. The striker poked the ball ahead and nipped between defenders, clear on goal but with the gap closing fast. Suarez did the right thing by taking the shot on his left foot rather than taking the time to shift it to his right, but doing so meant he only managed a weak effort that Patrick Kenny saved easily from point blank range.
And it wasn't only Suarez missing chances early on, with Stuart Downing firing over from in close and six corners in the opening ten minutes leading to not even a single effort reaching the target. The closest of the bunch came when a Martin Skrtel header from distance clipped Martin Kelly on its way back across the goal mouth, leading to a brief ping-pong scramble as the ball shot between flailing limbs before eventually being hammered clear.
In the end, that was about as good as things got for Liverpool in the opening period, as having been unable to score the story quickly shifted from the hope for a bit goal-scoring redemption against a struggling side to just the same old story. Fifteen minutes in, former Liverpool player Djibril Cisse drove QPR's first real chance wide of Reina's post, and with it Liverpool's spell of dominance began to wane with nothing on the scoreboard to show for it. By the time twenty minutes had passed, a recomposed Rangers side was shading possession, and by the final fifteen minutes the home side were outplaying Liverpool nearly as badly as they had been outplayed in the beginning.
In the midst of QPR's growing possession, with Liverpool once again appearing set to feel cheated by their own missed early opportunities, things became more complicated for the visitors when Martin Kelly went down injured. His participation had always been in doubt after the right back picked up a knock towards the end of Liverpool's cup tie against Stoke on the weekend, but with Glen Johnson still not fit for duty and Kenny Dalglish unwilling to give any of Liverpool's younger players a chance against an opponent in the relegation zone in the midst of a stretch of three matches in seven days, Kelly was forced into action in spite of any concerns.
Despite having Jon Flanagan on the bench, when the change was forced Dalglish turned instead to another young prospect who had been passed over in the starting eleven, choosing to insert Sebastian Coates at centre back and shifting Jamie Carragher to the right. Oddly, despite that Coates' natural position is on the left and Martin Skrtel's the right, Skrtel remained on the left while Coates took up position between the two veterans. One could make an argument that Dalglish wanted to bracket the young Uruguayan with two more experienced players, but given that Skrtel had had a shaky game on his less favoured side to that point it was still surprising to see.
With neither side managing to take an advantage from the opening half, the second kicked off with Jordan Henderson coming on for an ineffective Charlie Adam while QPR brought on Taye Taiwo for Armand Traore after the two players had collided awkwardly late in the first. It was a like-for-like switch for QPR, though for Liverpool it resulted in a change from the 433 to a 4231 as Henderson moved to the right, Downing to the left, and Dirk Kuyt moved behind Suarez in the middle. Despite the changes, however, things seemed to mostly be moving down the same path as they had in the first.
Once again, Liverpool came out firing, knocking back an opponent that seemed resigned to being stuck near the bottom of the standings. And once again, it appeared to be leading to nothing much in the end, as Liverpool worked towards their seventeen corners on the day without providing much by way of a convincing goal threat along the way.
That all changed when, 54 minutes into the match, Sebastian Coates scored his first goal in England and a strong contender for Liverpool's goal of the season. Off a corner, Stewart Downing's low drive back towards goal appeared to be heading just wide. The QPR player on the post, however, couldn't take the chance that it wouldn't sneak in and stepped up to clear the ball away. His contact, however, was poor, and the ball looped back towards Coates just inside the eighteen yard box. There, the Uruguayan lined up, braced himself to jump, and preformed a perfect sideways bicycle kick, crashing a bullet shot over Kenny's head and in off the crossbar.
It was a moment of sublime talent from a towering centre back, and a reason for fans to believe that for once all those missed opportunities might not lead to dropped points against a side well behind Liverpool in the table. And after resisting a surge of pressure from QPR following the goal, Liverpool appeared to have the game won when Luis Suarez flew past his markers in the box, though as has too often been the case this season he could only manage to find the post with his attempted finish.
Unlike on other occasions when Suarez' creative work and at times less than clinical finishing would have ended there, this time around Stewart Downing was rushing into the penalty area to collect the rebound, dipping his shoulder as he cut inside his man. His effort failed to find the back of the goal as well, but a sliding Dirk Kuyt was there to tackle the spilled shot past the fallen keeper and into the net.
It seemed then as though the game was over, and with the sides ahead of Liverpool once again struggling to put their own opposition away, some will even have begun to reacquaint themselves with thoughts of an unlikely challenge for fourth. Even after Shaun Derry scored on 77 minutes to pull QPR within a goal, climbing above Jordan Henderson on a corner while Jamie Carragher stood unmoving beside him, there seemed to be a belief that Liverpool had the game in hand. Certainly there can be few other explanations for why Kenny Dalglish decided to swap Luis Suarez for Andy Carroll on 82 minutes.
QPR, however, weren't on the same page as Liverpool's manager—even if the visitors believed the game was won, the home side wasn't ready to roll over and admit defeat quite yet. Despite being down, despite having deservedly plummeted into the relegation zone, and despite not having won since January 21st, QPR weren't ready to give up. First Djibril Cisse made up for his early miss, beating Martin Skrtel to a header in the box and confirming the rugged Slovak's worst game of an otherwise stellar season. Then in stoppage time, substitute Jamie Mackie exploited a lapse from Jose Enrique before blasting the winning goal past a helpless Pepe Reina.
Liverpool had their moments, but on the whole their game was uneven at best, and had they taken three points back to Liverpool with them QPR would have had some justification in feeling wronged by two pieces of skill from Liverpool's Uruguayan contingent. Instead, Liverpool will now feel the hard done by side after a result that was probably harsher than their play deserved. However, it can't be ignored that Liverpool's failings were almost entirely self-inflicted, and the role the coaching staff played in contributing to those failures can't be ignored, either. Liverpool likely didn't deserve to lose the game, but they also didn't deserve to win it, and against a struggling side sitting in the relegation zone that played as poorly as QPR did for much of the match that's damning enough in itself.