Liverpool vs Blackburn match report: Liverpool frustrated by Championship opponents at Anfield as FA Cup tie goes to replay

Liverpool 0 Blackburn 0

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The sign: “This Is Anfield” has seldom intimidated Blackburn Rovers. It was here, two decades ago, that they embraced the greatest moment in their history by winning the Premier League.

The fact they were managed by Kenny Dalglish and had denied Manchester United the championship, meant their triumph was not exactly begrudged by Liverpool. Fifteen years ago, when the club had slid back into the second tier of English football, they came to Anfield managerless and knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup.

A goalless draw was not quite on the same level of achievement, although hearing the ovation that sounded on the final whistle you would not have known. Had Alex Baptiste’s header not been superbly turned away by Simon Mignolet, it would have been louder still.

“It has been well documented what this club has been through,” said the Blackburn manager, Gary Bowyer. “And the fans have suffered more than anyone. It was wonderful to see them celebrate like this. We have the same chance in the replay as we had in this match. I know Brendan [Rodgers] has been complaining about the state of the pitch at Anfield but, if he sees Ewood Park, he will think this is Wembley.”

The match could be summed up in one statistic. Liverpool had 21 shots at Simon Eastwood’s goal but landed only four on target. Their domination had little cutting edge, although they will still be favourites to reach the semi-finals. In the fourth round, Bolton held them to a goalless draw at Anfield and were beaten in the rematch.

 

“The replay will be in early April,” said the Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers. “It certainly won’t be on the Monday which it will be for Bradford and Reading and I feel for those clubs who have to play Saturday-Monday with everything that is at stake for them.

“We lacked sharpness. We tried to grind our way through the game and we could not get the result but you have to give Blackburn credit; they put their bodies on the line.

“Our players have been through a lot. After the game at Besiktas and all the travelling that involved, I asked the players for four points from the next two games against Manchester City and Burnley. They gave me six and we are in the draw for the semi-final.”

It might have been considerably worse for Liverpool, especially when Martin Skrtel, going up for a challenge with Rudy Gestede, collapsed to the floor and lay motionless for seven minutes while he was treated on the pitch and then taken off on a stretcher. He watched the rest of the half before being taken to hospital as a precaution.

Skrtel’s departure gave Blackburn a chance they almost took. Rodgers has achieved great things with a back three but Glen Johnson, who chested a cross into his own side-netting, the out-of-form Dejan Lovren and Kolo Touré sometimes appeared a flimsy screen for Mignolet.

Touré, as he has whenever he has been called upon– most notably against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu – played very well. Gestede, who goes up for a challenge arms sprawled, was a handful in the first half but Touré proved a nuisance in the Blackburn area, putting the ball in the net and heading against the outside of Eastwood’s post. Both times, however, the defender was ruled offside.

Only when Rodgers reshaped his team just before the hour mark, bringing on Mario Balotelli and shifting Adam Lallana to the right flank to give Philippe Coutinho room to breathe did Liverpool’s domination become complete and yet they never suggested they would ram their advantage home.

And yet the odds on Blackburn must have been immensely greater than they were when Nathan Blake scored the lone goal to knock Liverpool out in 2000. Blackburn are not credible candidates for the play-offs and were without their captain, Grant Hanley, and Josh King, whose hat-trick had destroyed Stoke in the fifth round.

By the half-time whistle, which was delayed by eight minutes because of the injury to Skrtel, those odds would have reduced considerably. You could tell how Blackburn were doing just by looking at their manager. Bowyer displayed every kind of emotion with the expressions of an amateur actor on the church hall stage. He was watched from the stands by his father, Ian, who had won two European Cups with Nottingham Forest. There is a wonderful photograph of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor sitting on the running track at Cologne during the 1979 semi-final on what appear to be fold-up chairs, legs crossed, utterly impassive. Gary is not that sort of manager.

Blackburn’s best chance came from their centre-half, Baptiste. Last week, Bowyer had found himself so short of centre-halves that he had brought in Doneil Henry on loan from West Ham and, less than three hours after joining the team in Sheffield, the Canadian –who had never played a senior game in England – found himself kicking off at Hillsborough.

Anfield in an FA Cup quarter-final was a different order of difficulty entirely and here Bowyer employed Baptiste, who showed tremendous calmness alongside Matt Kilgallon. A few moments into the second half, Baptiste was given a clear header to meet Ben Marshall’s corner and Mignolet flung himself high to push it away. It kept Liverpool in the Cup.

Blackburn had a chance in each half. The first had seen Gestede dummy a low cross that set up Craig Conway perfectly. The shot was, however, not nearly as good as the approach work.

Well as Kilgallon played, Blackburn’s captain might have conceded two penalties. The first appeal was for a tackle on Lallana as he ran on to a superb ball from Lazar Markovic. Television replays were inconclusive, although Rodgers was convinced. He was less sure that Kilgallon’s pull-back on Daniel Sturridge deserved a spot-kick. However, he did not dare argue that Liverpool deserved a win.

Comments