Duff 63 McManaman 23,Redknapp 32
Half-time: 0-3 Attendance: 29,944
WHILE ALEX FERGUSON stands on the brink of a fabulous achievement, what must his former No 2 be thinking this morning as his Blackburn side teeter on the edge of an abyss? Realistically, it is two out of three of Blackburn, Charlton and South-ampton to be dragged kicking and screaming from the condemned cell, with even jolly swagman Jack Walker unable to buy Rovers' way out of this spot.
Maybe it will all be the making of Brian Kidd as a manager, but this defeat against a Liverpool minus Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler and with little to gain from their season except the silencing of their ever- gathering critics, suggests he will continue to suffer before safety is assured. If, indeed, it is.
If adversity maketh a man, then this display yesterday will surely create a colossus out of Kidd who, when he could have been at the European Cup final alongside Ferguson on 26 May, could well, by then, be plotting a Nationwide First Division campaign. Yesterday, for all his apparent stoicism, the tension was clearly seizing the Rovers' manager like a vice as he and the Liverpool coach Phil Thompson indulged in a spot of theatricals after the former Anfield wing-back Jason McAteer had felled Karlheinz Riedle near the touchline. Fingers were pointed, and gestures made, as the two men squared up in confrontation more suited to closing time outside the local than a Premiership ground.
Kidd's opposite number, Gerard Houllier, said that it made him laugh, a reaction which was, no doubt, repeated during the next half an hour when Blackburn decided it was a Save Anfield Angst charity afternoon. Two goals, feasted hungrily upon by Liverpool, both prepared lovingly by a Rover's haute cuisine chefs and presented on a silver salver, on either side of a meaty blow by Jamie Redknapp, are not what a relegation team require before half-time. After the interval there was insufficient evidence that they would repair the damage, other than Damien Duff's splendid volley.
The response from Kidd, defiance personified, was a hat-trick of cliches as he sought to convey his disappointment. "For the first 15 minutes we were nice and tidy and in control," he said. "Then we pressed the self- destruct button, we shot ourselves in the foot, and, in our situation, we had a glass mountain to climb."
Blackburn, and their owner, who is watching his grand design crumble before his eyes only four years after savouring the title, can hold one, perhaps two, comfort blankets to their disbelieving faces. The knowledge that they meet Charlton away next week, followed by Nottingham Forest at home.
One can only speculate whether Kidd will rue his decision to sate his own ambition rather than share the honours which will now surely befall Ferguson. "I don't want to say anything about Manchester United because people might get the wrong idea," he said, although even the master diplomat would be hard-pressed to suggest that life after Old Trafford has been kind.
After the initial impetus that followed his appointment in December, three Premiership victories are all Rovers have to show for their endeavours since the turn of the year. "There are plenty of twists and turns to come," he maintained.
In recent games Liverpool had been demob unhappy and Manchester United's achievement in Turin last week have only served to emphasise the sense of Anfield underachievement as Ferguson's men threaten to usurp Liverpool's elite historical status in Europe.
The visitors deployed Riedle in a lone front-running role, enthusiastically supported by Steve McManaman, David Thompson and Oyvind Leonhardsen. But it was still an authorative enough line-up to deflect Rovers from their purpose of salvation. The first goal came midway through the half when Darren Peacock's misdirected back-pass allowed McManaman to scramble the ball home ahead of goalkeeper John Filan. "One greedy bastard," the home supporters had heckled Liverpool's Loadsa-Pesetas. On an afternoon when his voracity with the ball hinted frequently at the prowess that has enabled the England man to negotiate such a lucrative deal with Real Madrid, they unwittingly had it about right. "We're getting the best out of Steve now," enthused Houllier, which with five games to go is hardly likely to mollify the dissatisfied Anfiield faithful.
For Blackburn, it was enough to deflate their morale instantly. Even McAteer, who had emerged at the start bristling with purpose, was already a forlorn figure by the interval. By then, Jamie Redknapp had unleashed a vicious drive on the half-hour, followed, a minute later, by another howler in the home defence, in which Peacock and McAteer both challenged for the same ball.
Leonhardsen, who was the grateful recipient of their efforts, put the game beyond Rovers. Duff gave Rovers belief, briefly, but the glass mountain would always provide too severe an ascent. Kidd can only pray that it contains more footholds than splinters in their last four games.