It’s a bad, disappointing and weird season for Liverpool. So weird that it turns out benching Steven Gerrard isn’t such a bad idea, and getting rescued by Glen Johnson twice in one match actually results in victory.
Johnson is one of those players that seems to have been around forever (with the Reds since 2009, meaning he’s been at the club longer than anyone except for Gerrard, Martin Skrtel and Lucas) and no one remembers a lot of great moments from him. Well there are two: His performance against Bolton during his first season for the club and his famous winning goal against Chelsea. Other than that, especially over the last couple of years, he’s almost like a persona non grata among a large portion of the fans.
But desperate times call for desperate measures. Gerrard got benched because putting him as a lone defensive midfielder has been a bad idea, this season at least. His ability to cover ground has deteriorated, and it’s better to use to combination of Lucas and Joe Allen in the holding roles. It might not make for the prettiest of football, but after a dark November with loss after loss in league and Europe, the change made in the personnel (but not in tactics) gave Rodgers his first win in over a month.
Johnson also made a nice little save near the goalline, just like Raheem Sterling did, in a match that could have turned out very differently if it wasn’t for Simon Mignolet and other bodies getting in the way of Stoke shots. But his biggest moment came late in the match. A moment of great anticipation, and scoring with his head, reacting first to Rickie Lambert’s header hitting the crossbar. It seemed like the entire Stoke defense was focused on holding back the tall striker, so Johnson had a clear path to connect with the ball.
Johnson isn’t suddenly the world’s best right back or a great player. Liverpool have better options than him on both sides of the field, when they’re healthy. But Rodgers needed something from anyone to stop the downward spiral from crushing him and his players. A little bit of breathing room, a little bit of air and relief. Something to smile about in a season that has so few of those moments, especially when compared to last year, that almost ended with a league title.
Liverpool aren’t great again. Rodgers keeps sticking to his ineffective tactics for some reason like a man possessed, despite acknowledging mistakes and his responsibility in the demise this season. Maybe this Johnson goal and win over Stoke is nothing more than a brief halt in the general depression this season is turning out to be. But it might be a team hitting a corner and turning things around. It often takes an unlikely hero to make these changes happen. Johnson just might be that player.