Birmingham City 0 Liverpool 1: Agger sinks Birmingham but Liverpool suffer Sissoko blow

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Steve Bruce's team took their leave of the Carling Cup fourth round last night, but the result at least represented a huge improvement from the last time they met Liverpool here in a knock-out competition, in March, when the Merseysiders reached the FA Cup semi-finals with a 7-0 win that helped precipitate City's slide out of the Premiership.

Liverpool's win came at a heavy cost, however, as they lost their ever-present midfielder Mohamed Sissoko with a reported dislocated shoulder that caused him to be kept in hospital overnight. Their manager, Rafael Benitez, predicted the Mali international would be out of action for at least a month.

Coincidentally, Sissoko made his comeback in that FA Cup quarter-final after a month out with an eye injury incurred in a Champions' League match at Benfica. Bad luck, it seems, continues to track him...

"When you lost a player who is playing every game it is a problem," said Benitez, who added that he thought the midfield tussle with Medhi Nafti that led to Sossoko's fall had been a fair one. "I haven't seen the replay yet, but I think it was an accident," he said.

In the end, however, the Merseysiders will be in a quarter-final draw lacking Manchester United on Saturday after a win where they were able to afford the luxury of several glaring misses from their over-anxious striker Craig Bellamy, including a 63rd-minute penalty earned after Chilean midfielder Mark Gonzalez's surge down the left was ended illegally by Radhi Jaidi.

The Welshman, clearly eager to re-state his case for a regular starting place following the decision to play Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt up front for the last three games, had done the clever bit in his run-up, committing Birmingham's goalkeeper Maik Taylor to a dive, but then drove the ball straight at the grounded veteran before holding his head in his hands.

Within a minute there was further cause for regret as he failed to connect with a left-wing cross from Bolo Zenden when he had a clear shooting chance.

Happily for the Liverpool contingent in the 23,061 crowd, the central defender Daniel Agger had already shown a surer touch in front of the posts, firing home what turned out to be the decisive goal in the fifth of seven minutes added on to the first half following the Sissoko injury. The Dane's initial header from the former Blue Jermaine Pennant's corner was blocked by Jaidi, but the ball rebounded to Agger.

Bruce recalled only too well last season's FA Cup humiliation after last night's game. "It was a horror night," he said. "I'll always be reminded of it by people, especially the Scousers."

Liverpool's travelling fans had certainly not forgotten the rout, and they treated the home manager to cheery renditions consisting of the words, "Steve Bruce, he's got a big, fat head." Hardly one of the great songs from the crowd that brought us "Jesus Saves, But St John Nets The Rebound" and greeted Gary Sprake's famous blunder with an instant version of "Careless Hands".

"Me head's not that fat," Bruce insisted with a grin after the match. He could afford to smile overall given the way his players have responded since the dismal defeat here by Norwich midway through October, after which the manager's disconsolate body language suggested he might be on his way. Five victories on the trot since then have transformed the atmosphere at St Andrew's.

Only two players in the home team - Maik and Martin Taylor - would have remembered the FA Cup quarter-final first hand given the exodus that Birmingham's relegation provoked - 15 players out, 10 players in. Pennant, who also played, has since moved to Anfield, and last night he presented Bruce, who had backed him when his career ran into trouble, with his shirt.

Of the other Liverpool players from that game in March, only Sissoko featured in last night's team. Unfortunately, not for very long.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Martin Taylor, Sadler; Larsson, Nafti (Muamba, 68), Danns, Gray; Jerome (Bendtner, 58), Campbell (McSheffrey, 58). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Kilkenny.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Peltier, Paletta, Agger, Warnock; Pennant, Sissoko (Alonso, 27), Zenden, Gonzalez; Bellamy, Fowler (Kuyt, 71). Substitutes not used: Martin (gk), Carragher, Guthrie.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

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