IN MANY ways the manner of Liverpool’s exit from the Europa League summed up their season.
So near yet so far. So dominant and so many positives yet ultimately their efforts went unrewarded.
It’s a fine line between success and failure. If only Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers had spotted Tomas Hubocan’s blatant handball inside the penalty area. If only Jonjo Shelvey had rifled that late chance the other side of the upright.
Thursday evening would have gone down in Anfield legend but in the end it merely joined a less celebrated list of ‘nearly nights’.
The frustration is that too often this term Liverpool have ended up on the wrong side of that thin dividing line. Supporters have had to settle for moral rather than truly significant victories.
Criticism on the back of such a gutsy performance seems churlish. After all Brendan Rodgers’ side strained every sinew and came within a whisker of securing an historic victory.
The final whistle was greeted with warm appreciation of the Reds’ contribution to a remarkable evening.
Yet in the cold light of day you have to ask how Liverpool find themselves out of Europe’s second tier competition before the last 16 stage?
Over the course of the tie they comprehensively outplayed a Zenit St Petersburg side who hadn’t been involved in a competitive game for two months.
Rodgers took some stick for suggesting that for 70 minutes in Russia the Reds produced “a near perfect away performance” but he was right.
Liverpool soaked up the pressure and countered with menace but all that hard work was undone by missed chances and lapses in concentration at the back.
Similarly at Anfield, that ruthless streak needed to get over the line was missing. Whether it comes down to ability or simply mental resilience something is lacking.
Prior to facing Zenit, Manchester City (home), Manchester United (home), Everton (away), Arsenal (away) and Manchester City (away) were all examples of the Reds walking away feeling shortchanged when the stakes were high. Performances which provided hope but not three points.
The day Liverpool celebrate glorious failures is the day that mediocrity is accepted and that can’t be allowed to happen. Lessons must be learned from bowing out of Europe.
It will take some good work in the transfer market this summer to add the steel Rodgers clearly needs but prior to then the boss must ensure the current campaign doesn’t simply peter out.
A year ago a painful last-gasp home defeat to Arsenal a week after Liverpool’s Carling Cup triumph saw the wheels come off their Premier League season.
The sense of deflation at losing such a crunch clash they had dominated proved difficult to shift.
Out of their final dozen league games under Kenny Dalglish, only four were won and just 13 points were accumulated. Eighth place was the club’s lowest finish for 18 years.
Rodgers can’t allow history to repeat itself. With their last shot at silverware having disappeared, the mission now is to secure European qualification for next term.
There are still 33 points up for grabs and Liverpool need to claim something from this season of transition.