Despite their best efforts, the Reds managed to progress in the League Cup after a tense penalty shootout.
Since taking over Brendan has generally fielded strong teams in the cup and last night was no exception.
Jordan Rossiter was the only unfamiliar face, the 17 year old scouser filling in as several first team midfielders were out injured.
The atmosphere in the stands was fairly tense before the game, after three poor performances it seemed as though most Reds would be happy with a scrappy win to get us back on track.
The last few games certainly seemed to affect the attendance, as there were noticeable pockets of empty seats all around Anfield.
The league cup is by no means a top priority but last season against Notts County 42,231 turned up, almost 400 more than were at the match last night.
Maybe this could be put down to high ticket prices, I paid £32 for my seat in the Lower Centenary, which seems a bit dear for a League Cup game that was shown live on Sky.
Ticket prices are an issue up and down the country with fans from many clubs taking part in a march on the Premier League’s HQ the day before the season began.
Anfield prices seem especially ridiculous, when Everton only charged their fans £6 per ticket for the away trip to Swansea last night.
The away end was certainly full to capacity, and it was the travelling Teesiders who generated much of the atmosphere as the game kicked off.
Their mood was dampened after just ten minutes when debutant Rossiter side footed the ball home when ‘Boro goalkeeper Jamal Blackman found himself in no man’s land.
Rossiter lives just around the corner from the ground and has come through the academy, so the huge cheers in the crowd were down to the young lad fulfilling a childhood dream rather than the spectacular nature of the opener.
The rest of the half played out comfortably enough, but the Reds seemed to be overly cautious with Lucas Leiva and Rossiter both sitting deep when really only one holding midfielder was needed against a limited ‘Boro side.
The Reds did have plenty of attacking midfielders with Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and Raheem Sterling all supporting lone striker Rickie Lambert.
Sterling wasn’t at his best but still caused the visitor’s defence problems, Lallana seems to be finding his feet at the Reds and was deservedly named man of the match, Markovic on the other hand caused frustration in the stands.
When he was signed from Benfica, I was under the impression that we had bought an exciting forward with the ability to beat a man, something the team needs.
But the Serbian did little of that, preferring to repeatedly try intricate passes through a packed ‘Boro defence with little success.
Markovic shirked several physical confrontations and although it’s early days, there were some uncomplimentary comparisons made with Vladimir Smicer.
Smicer, of course, turned out to be a true Istanbul hero and if Markovic can make that sort of impact then he will be worth every penny.
Lambert was really struggling up front, perhaps nerves were playing a part as he captained the side in his first competitive start, but with Sturridge and Balotelli ahead of him in the pecking order he really needs to take any chance he gets to impress.
During the half time break one Red said: ‘I hope it goes to penalties, we haven’t had a shootout here for a while.’ Be careful what you wish for!
The second half started much like the first, with the Reds keeping possession fairly comfortably until a brainless handball from Mamadou Sakho allowed the Teesiders back into the game.
When I was in secondary school, I had a teacher who I didn’t always see eye to eye with and whenever I acted up he would say: ‘I’m not surprised, I’m just disappointed.’
That’s how it feels at the minute when the Reds defend a set piece, you almost half expect it to go in.
Our defenders seem to be preoccupied with holding their men rather than attacking and clearing the ball.
Grant Leadbitter fizzed the ball into the box and there wasn’t a Red shirt in sight as Adam Reach headed home.
For the remainder of normal time ‘Boro’s fans provided the only real entertainment, audaciously claiming that they preferred the smog of Middlesbrough to Anfield.
Lambert was rightly subbed off for Balotelli and when Rossiter was subbed off it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put on another attacking player to try and force the win.
Instead Brendan handed out another debut, this time to 18 year old Jordan Williams.
With so many Jordans in central midfield, maybe it won’t be long before Brendan gives Katie Price a go in the side.
The game petered out into a draw, with the Reds almost seeming to settle for extra time.
Eight minutes into extra time Suso came on to replace Markovic, the young Spaniard was a more natural fit in the hole behind Balotelli and he posed the opposition defence more problems.
The Reds have been crying out for more creativity in the last few games and with Philippe Coutinho injured and badly out of form at any rate maybe Suso should be given a chance in the league.
The Reds’ second goal came after brilliant link up play between Lallana and Jose Enrique down the left, the ball ended up falling kindly to Suso who scored his first goal for the Reds.
Enrique had a very good night at left back, he was up against ‘Boro’s most dangerous attacking player in Albert Adomah and he was simply too quick and strong for the winger.
Alberto Moreno has started his Liverpool career brightly but Enrique is more solid defensively so there should be good competition for a regular starting place.
Suso’s goal should have been the winner but the Reds gifted the visitors a late equaliser.
Sterling had the ball high up on the left hand side but rather than head for the corner he instead tried to pass back to Kolo Toure in defence.
The pass was wayward, Patrick Bamford intercepted and Toure crudely took him down in the area giving ‘Boro a last minute penalty.
Bamford scored the first of 31 penalties and we went through to the shootout.
After Mignolet saved the first spot kick it looked as though the Reds would progress comfortably but Sterling’s penalty was saved and we went to sudden death.
To be fair to Raheem he’s only 19, and this shootout went way past his bedtime.
At first you had to marvel at the skill and nerve of the takers as penalty after penalty flew into the net but marvel turned to frustration as the visitors refused to be beaten.
Even the goalkeepers buried their spot kicks and you started to wonder if anybody would miss.
Balotelli certainly wouldn’t, the Italian has a perfect record from the spot in England and he took his penalties like it was a training match.
The new striker seems to be polarising opinion on Merseyside already, nobody doubts his technical ability but he barely seems to get above a gentle jog, You have to wonder if he even breaks sweat during a game.
He certainly has the ability to make things happen and once he’s settled in he’s definitely capable of silencing his doubters.
Lallana, Suso and Lucas also scored their second penalties, and it was only when Adomah put his kick wide, almost three hours after kick off, that the Reds progress was ensured.
Many Reds fans stayed back to applaud the visitors for their valiant effort before those of us getting the train home rushed off to catch the last one.
After the game Brendan said: “We are disappointed with the goals we conceded. We are making too many mistakes at the moment. But what this team has is character and we needed that.”
An accurate summary of the Reds at the minute.
In truth, though they showed a lot of fight ‘Boro offered virtually nothing going forward, they scored two down to Liverpool errors.
The defensive frailties are there for all to see and need to be fixed quickly.
But, most pressing right now is the Merseyside derby, both teams are as bad as each other at the back and the Reds will need plenty of the character Brendan highlighted if we’re to come out on top.