Fan Focus: Talkin' With The Tomkins Times

Standing by his man, for better or for worse.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Paul Tomkins from the critically acclaimed Tomkins Times to get the Red's perspective ahead of their trip to Wearside tomorrow afternoon. Be sure to follow Paul on Twitter if you're into that kind of thing and definitely call by the site for all your Liverpool needs, it really is the best around.

Join us after the jump for all the answers to our SAFC vs LFC questions.

It would be fair to say that it has been a tough season for Liverpool, off the field at least, since we last spoke way back on the opening day of the season. What have you made of how LFC have handled the Suarez situation?

PT: How long have you got? I think certain aspects were poorly handled, including by LFC's legal defence in the FA's "independent" tribunal, but it was an incredibly difficult case, relying on hearsay, and where you had a Frenchman insulting a Uruguayan's sister in Spanish on English soil, and the Uruguayan replying with something racially inappropriate, but which has different connotations in his homeland.

Suarez admitted using the Spanish word for black once, and for that, a two-game ban would have sufficed. How it got to eight games for seven unproved uses is laughable when you read the report. The fact that Evra has been called a liar by the French FA, and unreliable by a previous FA enquiry, suggests that he's not someone to necessarily trust, even if Suarez is seen as equally untrustworthy.

Also, how Evra got away with insulting language is also questionable, and now we have four football league players getting mere fines for homophobic abuse via Twitter. If the FA want to crack down on discriminatory abuse, great. But do it consistently.

Anyway, none of it did the club any good, and it's cast a shadow over the season, as has the injury to Lucas. An apology early on, for any offence caused - even if none was intended by Suarez - may have helped, but now we'll never know.

Now that you have had a little longer to watch him in action how do you rate Henderson's start to his LFC career?

PT: I like Henderson a lot, as do most discerning Reds. He's had a couple of great games on the right, but he has often looked a bit lost out there. In the centre, his quick passing instincts are less limited - he can look either way, rather than just infield or backwards. Perhaps he's just being blooded out wide, or used to do the donkey work so that Johnson can overlap.

There's a potentially great player there, but he needs to gain in confidence, and that should come with age. He reminds me a bit of a young Frank Lampard, in that he gets about the pitch well, passes intelligently if unspectacularly, and is capable of scoring goals, but has yet to find that killer instinct.

Much has been made of Stewart Downing's struggle for form, whats been your assessment of his season to date?

PT: He started brilliantly - an El Hadji Diouf of a home debut against your boys! He rarely beats a man with skill, but looks to find crosses. Famously, he has no assists so far, but that's not his fault - our strikers have missed some sitters from his delivery. He faded quite drastically after that bright start, perhaps because he kept being denied those assists and also stopped scoring himself by great goalkeeping, but has picked up a bit lately.

Unlike Henderson, I think we overpaid for Downing, but he can still be a very effective Premier League player: he's mobile, intelligent and fairly diligent. But he doesn't impose himself - he's not looked a match-winner. Maybe it's confidence, but he'll bottle shooting when in a good position, but must have had 40 shots from distance, most of which were a waste of time. And on Saturday he arguably cost us the points by cocking up a simple square pass to Suarez.

Like Henderson, who also passes the buck, maybe he'll be less overawed once he's a bit more settled. Unlike Henderson, he's experienced enough to be delivering now.

Both sides are still in the FA Cup, would we be doing you a favour by dumping Everton out or would you prefer a Merseyside Final?

PT: Personally, I hate cup games against Everton. That said, we have a good record against them in finals!

Dirk Kuyt, arguably one of the most underrated players in the league for me, has his place in the side been a victim of the faith shown in Andy Carroll?

PT: I love Dirk, and was surprised when he was left out on the opening day, with Henderson in his place on the right. Henderson keeps possession better, but Kuyt makes things happen. I'm not sure Dirk has ever fully recovered from starting the season as a squad player, and it's all the more weird given how many goals he scored under Kenny last season; ditto Maxi. We've added more pace to the side out wide, but at the expense of goals.

Our results with Carroll are actually a little bit better than without him, albeit against slightly inferior opposition on average. He's another player who can play better than he has - on a few occasions he's looked great - but who has largely looked overawed with the price tag and expectations at Liverpool.

How would you assess SAFC's improvement under O'Neill?

PT: Not too surprising, as I have never really rated Steve Bruce. O'Neill seems to get teams playing, and while I've never been sure that he was cut out for a top four side, he has to be the best at managing teams outside of the elite - a kind of superior version of Roy Hodgson. I moved to Leicester in the late ‘90s, and I know how highly regarded he is here.

Two very old school, traditional managers, Dalglish and O'Neill, would you agree?

PT: Yes and no. O'Neill uses zonal marking - that's not old school! And Dalglish, even first time around, used rotation, various formations and even zonal marking himself. I wouldn't say that they were especially modern, but they know their stuff.

But equally, they are managers, rather than coaches. From all I've heard about O'Neill, he's fairly absent during the week, but makes an impact on match-day. And Dalglish leaves a lot of the tactical work to Steve Clarke, who did so well alongside Mourinho at Chelsea.

Moving on to Saturday's game, how can you see it panning out?

PT: We will dominate possession, miss two penalties and four open goals, hit the woodwork three times, and you will score from your only shot - at least that will be the case, if it follows Liverpool's usual pattern this season. Come to think of it, that's how it started versus Sunderland!

What are Liverpool's key threats?

PT: Suarez, by a mile. You saw what he did last season. He's world-class, and just needs to calm down a bit in front of goal. He bagged all four for Uruguay in a big game this season, but he's not as relaxed for us.

That said, we've been playing good football as a team all season, and only been outplayed (in terms of possession/shots on target) in four of the 26 league games. We just can't hit a dead sheep with a giant mallet right now.

Any Sunderland player that concerns you?

PT: Sessegnon has really caught the eye. I expect both he and Cattermole to have good games against us. Joking aside, James McClean, of those not suspended, is doing well. I've not seen loads of him, but he looks a tricky customer.

And finally a prediction?

PT: How did my prediction work out in August? I may have said then that I hate predicting results, as so many strange things can happen on the day. Having said that, I'd expect both sides to score, but I'm hoping for a 2-1 win. Of course, I won't bet on it.

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Once again huge thanks to Paul for taking the time to answer our questions and be sure to check out the fantastic Tomkins Times and follow Paul on Twitter

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