WHEN the travelling Hull City fans started to serenade Mike Phelan with the song Happy Birthday midway through the second half, he could not help but smile.
The Tigers were 4-1 down at the time and the gulf in class between the two sides as big as the towering new main stand that now dominates the Anfield skyline.
But Phelan appreciated the sentiment, just as he did how those same 2,500 supporters later stayed behind to applaud his players from the field at the final whistle.
For the City caretaker chief, it was a clear indication that, despite nine goals having been conceded inside a week to Arsenal and Liverpool, the togetherness that helped the Yorkshire club overcome a summer fraught with difficulties remains very much intact.
Such a bond is vital ahead of an October that will see Saturday’s visit of Chelsea followed by a trio of games against sides that Hull will be expected to take points off in Bournemouth, Stoke City and Watford.
“I think the supporters have been terrific,” Phelan, 54, told The Yorkshire Post. “They are really, really pleased that we are playing at Anfield and really pleased the team has started the season well.
“The expectation when we started was the total opposite. Of course, they will show their disappointment at times because they want us to be more and more competitive as the season goes along – and I am sure that will happen.
“Seven points after six games is a decent return. We could have had a couple more, in my opinion. That is one particular game but it wasn’t to be.
“The key is we stay positive and I want the players to stay positive. I do believe we will be where we need to be when it matters, which is competitive against the right teams who we feel we have an opportunity to beat.”
Yorkshire football fans have had a taster of the gegenpressing system that Jurgen Klopp has imported from Germany thanks to the presence of David Wagner – the Liverpool chief’s best man at his wedding – at Huddersfield Town.
This, though, was on a whole new level compared to how the Terriers have been operating in the Championship for the past 10 months.
An attacking quartet of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana means Liverpool have not just energy and aggression but also an ability to pick apart an opposition defence at will.
From the very first few seconds, any Hull player in possession was immediately closed down.
Be it Curtis Davies or Jake Livermore at the heart of the defence or the central midfield trio of Ryan Mason, Sam Clucas and Tom Huddlestone, no-one dressed in black was given more than a couple of seconds on the ball before having a Liverpool man snapping at his toes.
Adding to this sense of suffocation felt by the visitors was any possible escape avenue to a team-mate being cut off time and time again by a swarm of red shirts in every direction, leaving the Tigers with little option but to launch the ball forward more in hope than expectation that Abel Hernandez could do something with it.
Thanks to the domineering Joel Matip, however, he could not and the upshot was the visitors’ goal being under siege to such an extent that Liverpool had 32 attempts on goal to Hull’s two.
That the Tigers escaped their worst ever mauling in the Premier League – inflicted at Anfield seven years ago today on an afternoon when Fernando Torres bordered on unplayable in a 6-1 romp for Liverpool – was down to David Marshall and a string of saves he made on league debut.
The pick was a one-handed stop to deny Georginio Wijnaldum in the first half, though a 57th-minute block from Sadio Mane also drew deserved applause from the 53,109 crowd.
Liverpool’s opening two goals came via exquisite pieces of skill that left, first, Ryan Mason and then Curtis Davies trailing. Coutinho was behind the first of those, Lallana taking advantage with a cool finish beyond Marshall on 17 minutes, and Firminho’s sharp turn on halfway embarrassed Davies to start the move that ended with Ahmed Elmohamady being red-carded for handball and James Milner converting from the penalty spot.
Further punishment was to follow for Hull before the break courtesy of a low finish by Mane, who had earlier struck the crossbar with a deflected shot.
Hull did pull a goal back six minutes after the restart when Meyler fired in from eight yards after Liverpool had failed to deal with Robert Snodgrass’s corner but any hopes of an unlikely comeback proved short-lived.
Just 54 seconds later, Coutinho, afforded far too much space 25 yards from goal, unleashed a ferocious shot that Marshall had no hope of reaching in front of the Kop.
City’s fans tried to lift their caretaker manager’s spirits with a rendition of Happy Birthday that was followed by the chant ‘we want Phelan in’.
But there was still another Liverpool goal to come, Milner converting from the penalty spot for a second time after full-back Andrew Robertson had been adjudged to have fouled Daniel Sturridge.
“As far as my birthday goes, I’ve had better ones,” admitted Phelan.
“But I am going out with the family, we will have a drink if we win and a drink if we lose. I will reflect on the game tomorrow – maybe with a hangover!”