Kenny Dalglish returned to Blackburn talking darkly of refereeing conspiracies. He would have left Ewood Park wondering whether Howard Webb would be warming up for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final from behind a grassy knoll.
The Liverpool manager was already resigned to facing Everton without Pepe Reina – now his second-choice keeper, Alexander Doni was dismissed. Frankly, Dalglish was lucky not to lose his third, Brad Jones. Tussling with Yakubu for the ball after the forward had charged down the Australian goalkeeper's clearance with his backside, Jones pushed him over.
The penalty was a formality but Ewood screamed for a second red card. Instead, it was yellow and the possibility of a frantic phone call to Ray Clemence to ask if he was doing anything on Saturday receded. What saved Jones was the fact that the ball was bouncing away from his goal.
Nevertheless Yakubu, who had made a thorough-going mess of the penalty awarded for Doni's dismissal, struck the dead-centre of the goal with his second that lifted Blackburn very temporarily out of the relegation zone.
It was not to last. In the final moments of an extraordinary game they were back in it when Andy Carroll, who was fortunate not to have conceded an own-goal with a backward flick of his pony-tail, latched on to Daniel Agger's header in stoppage time to give Liverpool the kind of astonishing, against-the-odds win they seem to specialise in. For Blackburn's Steve Kean, this was an ominous fourth successive defeat.
For those from Merseyside who jammed into the Darwen End, this match might have been considered a pre-match drink before the serious business of Wembley. It was some cocktail, played with remarkable speed and verve. It mattered little that this ended the worst run of Dalglish's career – his worst before this came in his only full season at Newcastle. That campaign ended with an FA Cup final. It was lost but at least then he had a choice of goalkeepers. Now he just wanted one.
For Liverpool's first goal, Craig Bellamy crossed brilliantly after a fine clearance by Martin Srktel. Maxi made no mistake. Three minutes later, he had his second. Again, there was no suggestion that Kean had chosen anyone to hold the centre of his midfield together as Jonjo Shelvey dispossessed David Dunn and drove forward. His shot ought to have been saved rather than parried by Paul Robinson. Carroll's attempt to seize on the replay was blocked but the ball spun out to Maxi, who netted.Reuse content