Something happened last night which gave me pause when it comes to dismissive statements and definitive judgements. After recording some two hours worth of interesting Liverpool-based discussion, your scribbler, who was hosting a podcast, signed off in the usual way with an acknowledgement of all who had taken part. Reading the list of last night's contributors, I reached my own name at the end, which I then managed to say incorrectly. My own name.
It was as though my brain decided to mock me, some cerebral jape which resulted in quizzical looks and much mirth for the others, but a kind of confused horror for me, as I realised that the particularly ruthless and critical bastards I record with would never forget it. Months of solid work would count for nought as I would simply become the man who cannot say his own name.
Martin Skrtel has been the victim of such callous dismissal also. A solid performer since Rafa Benitez brought him to Anfield in January 2008, his errors and short-comings are invariably more discussed than his many fine traits. The centre-half has made 229 appearances for Liverpool over seven seasons, and in the main, he has been a reliable stopper. There will be those, myself often amongst them, who find it hard to see past certain issues with the Slovakian's game, but to be fair, Skrtel at least delivers a level of consistency that cannot be questioned. He's even made a point of trying to undress opposition attackers in every game. Consistency!
For such a statuesque figure of a man, Skrtel has often been found wanting when up against equally physically imposing strikers. On too many occasions, this muscular international captain has been bullied and dominated by burly forwards, and going into Tuesday night's derby, most were wary of the match up between our number thirty seven and Everton's on-loan Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian is a fearsome attacker with a terrifying mix of power, pace and technique and I was surely not alone in my pronounced anxiety in the build-up.
As it panned out, Skrtel and Kolo Touré only had a short spell in which to deal with the particular brand of torment Lukaku can inflict, as the youngster picked up a nasty injury and Roberto Martinez called on the altogether more prosaic talents of Gary Naismith. In that period when the impressive Belgian was on the pitch, however, Skrtel had the upper hand and his performance overall on the night, and in recent games, was of a notably higher standard than he had been previously producing.
Perhaps it is the newly stapled cranium or the protective open ended head-sock that will no doubt inspire milliners across Europe's fashion capitals. Perhaps it is the fact that, if one squints, this new look makes Skrtel resemble a particularly scary red-clad monk, complete with dramatic tonsure. Whatever it is, the Martin Skrtel of the last few games is a defensive force to be reckoned with. The player himself, who began the campaign after a summer of strong rumours that he would leave the club, was out of favour with the Liverpool boss but has fought his way back in to the starting team. Indeed, this new Skrtel, is probably Brendan Rodgers' first choice stopper even when injuries to Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho clear up.
The man himself is pleased with the season to date and drew particular contentment from the recent defensive shut-outs. He stressed the work the entire team does as a defensive unit and one does not need Holmesian levels of deductive powers to conclude that Skrtel felt those further up the pitch provided more cover and effort against Everton than they had previously. It's always best to dress criticism with a strongly flavoured garnish of praise!
"We have been working every single day on the training pitch to try to improve our defence," he told the Echo. "It's not only about the keeper or the back four, it's about the whole team defending better. Tonight was a big step forward. It's always nice to keep a clean sheet but the most important thing is always to win. I would rather we won 6-4 than drew 0-0. With the FA Cup win too, that's two clean sheets in a row and hopefully we can make it three at West Brom on Sunday."
Skrtel is clearly enthused by the teams efforts to date and seems cautiously optimistic about the future whilst revelling in the significance of the victory over Everton.
"This was a very important game for us with only one point separating the teams," he insisted. "We knew before the game it wouldn't be easy because Everton have been in great form, but we wanted the three points so much and we're always confident when we play at home. It was the perfect performance from us. Everyone worked so hard. We had great support from the fans and that really helped. We started better than them and kept it that way for the full 90 minutes.
"If we keep performing like that then we can finish in the top four," he said. "There is a four point difference between us and Everton now, and there aren't too many games left to be played before the end of the season. It's a great result but we need to keep going. We know what we are playing for and we must try to play like that every week. At West Brom on Sunday and we need to repeat this performance and get another three points."
When I was a kid the finest Gaelic footballer on our County team wore a knee-brace. On any given Sunday, one could see a slew of youngsters donning the flimsiest of fabric bandages in homage to their hero. Only two campaigns ago Martin Skrtel won the fans' award for Player of the Season. If he is in the reckoning again at the end of this campaign, it will be a testament to his spirit and resolve in the face of adversity. It may also precipitate a sudden surge in the sale of bespoke head-cosies.