ROY HODGSON has been guilty of defending under-performing players on too many occasions so far this season.
His declaration that the derby display at Goodison was the best of his tenure and that Liverpool had ‘battled well’ at Stoke being two cases in point.
However, not even Hodgson could bring himself to talk up Joe Cole’s performance in Wednesday’s dour stalemate with Utrecht.
“Joe knows he is better than that and he knows he can do better than that,” he said. “He sets himself high standards and I’m sure he came off the field feeling it was not the performance he wanted to give.”
The final Europa League group game may have been meaningless for Liverpool but for Cole it represented a glorious opportunity to kick-start his Anfield career. The chance was spurned.
As one of the most experienced players on show, it should have been Cole pulling the strings and cajoling a performance out of the youngsters alongside him.
Instead he remained firmly on the periphery throughout to the point that when his shot was blocked late on many had forgotten he was even still out there.
The midfielder is clearly desperately short of confidence and it’s easy to see why. Little has gone right for him since he left Chelsea as a free agent and opted to make the switch to Anfield this summer.
Sent off for a crude lunge on the opening weekend of the Premier League season against Arsenal, Cole then missed a penalty in front of the Kop against Trabzonspor.
In October he admitted to being in the worst form of his career and then promptly pulled a hamstring at Bolton and was out for a month.
Cole has been fit for three weeks now but in starts against Steaua Bucharest and Utrecht has failed to demonstrate why Liverpool were so keen to beat Tottenham to his signature. When Hodgson was in desperate need of attacking flair late on at St James’ Park last week, he turned to the erratic Milan Jovanovic instead.
The club’s marquee summer signing has provided Hodgson with a dilemma. The 29-year-old may have been a free transfer but there was nothing cheap about acquiring his services with a hefty signing on fee and a four-year deal on a reported wage of £100,000 per week.
Cole was supposed to provide the creativity the Reds lacked in the final third, but a player with three Premier League title medals is in danger of becoming an expensive bench warmer.
Starting him against Fulham today would represent a real leap of faith. On current form you can’t say the Reds’ No 10 is a better bet than either Maxi Rodriguez on the left or David Ngog just behind Fernando Torres.
Cole said he wanted a challenge when he arrived at Anfield and he has certainly got one. It’s one fans will be hoping he conquers because a Liverpool side with Cole firing on all cylinders would look a much more threatening proposition.