Rafael Benitez has been in football long enough to know that you ought not to tempt providence. But no sooner had the Liverpool manager said his team were playing better than at any time since he arrived at Anfield than that rosy vision was shattered yesterday.
A goal by the man injured so often he is known as "Sicknote" ensured that the best home record in the Premiership was left feeling pretty queasy itself. Darren Anderton, the eternal crock, scored with 14 minutes remaining to strip Liverpool of their Anfield invincibility and make it a miserable two days on the red half of Merseyside.
On Friday they announced a £25.5m loss for the financial year and yesterday they handed Birmingham City their first win in nine League outings by a supine performance. Without the injured strikers, Djibril Cisse and Milan Baros they were toothless up front and lacked bite in the tackle.
They had two shots cleared off the line but even the most red-eyed Koppite could hardly say his team had been excessively unfortunate. Birmingham deserved at least a point for their effort alone and in fullback Julian Gray they had the outstanding force in the game.
The match was played yesterday with Liverpool supporters reeling at the price of removing Gérard Houllier and his coaching team in the summer. Nearly £11m was the pay-off to the French manger, Phil Thompson, Christian Damiano and Joe Corrigan, which proves that not only Emile Heskey was guilty of squander at Anfield last season.
Heskey was back yesterday leading a Birmingham attack and acting as a reminder of when Liverpool had four international strikers to choose from as injury yesterday meant the home side was reduced to playing 20-year-old Florent Sinama-Pongolle (two goals in 29 appearances) as their spearhead.
Sinama-Pongolle was supported by Luis Garcia and Harry Kewell but there was a glut of midfield players on both sides, so it was a surprise that the game began so openly. John Arne Riise flashed a header wide after six minutes, by which time Harry Kewell and Xabi Alonso had tested Maik Taylor's reactions.
At the other end Heskey was narrowly wide with a near-post stretch to meet Muzzy Izzet's cross after eight minutes. But as the teams became organised the free-flow came to an end and the rest of the first half was a midfield battle in which Liverpool's greater skill was matched by Birmingham's better work ethic.
It appeared that either error or fortune would need to take a hand to provide a breakthrough and a mixture of both provided Liverpool with a chance they should have taken after 31 minutes. As Robbie Savage tried to halt Sinama-Pongolle's charge through the centre he unwittingly touched the perfect through ball for Garcia. Free 12 yards out, the Spaniard ballooned the ball high over the bar.
The second half began with Anfield howling for a penalty as Kenny Cunningham and Sinama-Pongolle collapsed in a heap on the edge of the area but it was a hopeful appeal. There should have been passing interest in the Liverpool area too in the 48th minute when Julian Gray skipped round Garcia and Josemi and then failed to deliver the obvious cross. Instead he tried to pull the ball back and a promising move fizzled out.
If that was a wasted opportunity, it was nothing compared to Liverpool's after 54 minutes. Garcia cut in from the right and passed to Harry Kewell who left the ball for Dietmar Hamann's run through the centre. The German had the momentum to get beyond the Birmingham back four but his shot, low to Taylor's left, was easily smothered it by the goalkeeper.
Liverpool were unlucky not to take the lead in the 71st minute when Izzet cleared off the line twice from shots Hamann and Garcia. And they had reason to rue their fortune by the 77th minute. A run down the left by Gray yielded a corner and as the home defence dozed it was played short to Savage. His cross went to the far post where Matthew Upson jumped strongest and his header went to Anderton, who scored from the range of a yard.Reuse content