Football: Yet another blow for Blackburn

Liverpool 2 Blackburn Rovers 0
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A WRETCHED eight days for Blackburn Rovers culminated in defeat at Anfield yesterday when even the normal antidote to gloom, the appointment of Tony Parkes as caretaker manager, did not halt the spiral downwards. When even this lucky talisman fails to work, you know things are getting serious.

This is the fourth occasion that Parkes has moved into the Ewood Park manager's office and on the last occasion, two years ago, his first win was against Liverpool. Unfortunately for him, there was no repeat of that transformation yesterday as goals from Paul Ince and Michael Owen condemned Rovers to their 10th defeat in 15 League matches. They are still bottom of the Premiership and, worryingly, a gap of six points has opened between themselves and the positions of safety.

They did not play badly and indeed their reserves of spirit were commendable given that they lost their manager, Roy Hodgson, the previous weekend and are still handicapped by a grievous injury list but the results refuse to come. Instead it was Liverpool, no strangers to disappointment themselves this season, who were breathing easier last night.

"It's difficult to say too much to the players," Parkes said, "because we lost but when went 2-0 down I thought it was going to be four or five. But we dug in and didn't crumble which is a great credit to them. I lost my first match when I was in charge last time so I'm not worrying yet."

Liverpool began the match as crisply as the late afternoon air and within six minutes John Filan had saved Patrik Berger's volley and then had been relieved that Jamie Redknapp's 25-yard shot had flown close but wide. Anfield luxuriated in this revisit of past glory but the mood soon changed when this bright opening faded to reveal Liverpool at their hesitant and inaccurate worst and soon the home crowd was barracking its own players.

Of course, the home team contributed to the feeling of unease but Blackburn were playing their part, too. Far from being cowed by recent events, they attacked with vigour. Kevin Gallacher's free-kick hit Ince and deflected just wide, Nathan Blake was too high with a shot and Damien Johnson's header flashed just over and if anyone appeared likely to score it was the visitors. Instead, against the run of play, Liverpool struck twice in two minutes.

The goals came like a bolt from the blue, which was approximately the impression Filan would have got of the first as it curled viciously past him on the half hour, struck a post and rolled into the net. The scorer, from 25 yards, was Ince and although the first impression was that it was just a lucky thump, television evidence showed intent from the England midfielder as well as underlining the contribution of Robbie Fowler's smart turn and lay-off.

Blackburn have had blows raining in on them from many directions of late and this latest looked to have them groggy but worse was to follow after 32 minutes. Ince crossed accurately from the right and Fowler would have had a relatively easy chance if his control had been as good as the pass. The ball bounced off him, however, but rather than being punished for his sloppiness it fell to Owen, whose first shot was saved by Filan and the ball ricocheted off the 18-year-old's knee and into the net.

The goal was anything but archetypal Owen, owing more to luck than his lightning pace or a striker's precision, but the start of the second half saw two examples of both. First Fowler set the hare free with a glorious pass that deserved better than his younger partner's horrible hook of a shot but the second was a startling explosion of power after 57 minutes that so surprised Filan that the ball had bounced off his chest before he could adjust his position.

Liverpool, being Liverpool, could not sustain this flurry and the closing stages were Blackburn's and Blake threatened twice. But close is not enough, Rovers need victories. Parkes has a tough task ahead of him.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Carragher, Staunton (Kvarme, 74) Babb; Heggem (Gerrard, 89), Ince, Redknapp, Berger, Bjornebye; Owen, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Murphy, Thompson, Friedel (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Kenna, Henchoz, Dailly, Davidson; Johnson (Davies, 87), Marcolin, Dunn, Duff; Gallacher, Blake. Substitutes not used: Broomes, Croft, Taylor, Fettis (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Middlesbrough).

Bookings: Liverpool: Staunton; Blackburn: Davidson.

Man of the match: Ince.

Attendance: 41,753.