Another dose of the Blues for mediocre Liverpool

Liverpool 0 Blackburn Rovers 0
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The Independent Football

This was supposed to be the night when Liverpool, fresh from their charge to the Champions' League quarter-finals, trimmed the gap on fourth-placed Everton to five points with a home derby to come on Sunday. In the event, a combination of their own mediocrity and Blackburn Rovers' new-found solidity ensured a barren stalemate which leaves the Anfield side seven points behind their neighbours.

This was supposed to be the night when Liverpool, fresh from their charge to the Champions' League quarter-finals, trimmed the gap on fourth-placed Everton to five points with a home derby to come on Sunday. In the event, a combination of their own mediocrity and Blackburn Rovers' new-found solidity ensured a barren stalemate which leaves the Anfield side seven points behind their neighbours.

Liverpool will go into their most important game of the season on the back of a run of just three wins in nine Premiership fixtures. Blackburn, themselves embarking on a sequence that also pits them against Arsenal and Manchester United, are now eight points clear of the relegation zone. It is a measure of their improvement under Mark Hughes that they have kept five clean sheets in six games without defeat.

The presence of Everton's managerial duo, David Moyes and Alan Irvine, was a reminder, if any were needed, of the impending collision of the red and the blue. So, too, was Rafael Benitez's team selection, which saw two fixtures in the Liverpool side, John Arne Riise and Sami Hyypia, start on the bench, doubtless with a view to having them fresh for Sunday.

Blackburn, who beat Moyes' side 1-0 at Goodison Park in their previous League game, were without Robbie Savage and Paul Dickov, yet they soon showed their now trademark obduracy. By the midway point in the first half, they had restricted Liverpool to one cross by Stephen Warnock, the ball flashing across goal with no one prepared to attack it.

With the South Africa captain, Aaron Mokoena, playing between a well-drilled back line and a heavily staffed midfield, Blackburn often stifled with ease Liverpool's attempts to play the ball into their forwards' feet. When the visitors did launch a counter-attack, on the half-hour, Steven Gerrard pulled down Steven Reid and was shown a yellow card.

The low level of excitement transmitted itself to an untypically becalmed crowd - or perhaps it was vice-versa - and it took a miskick by Jerzy Dudek to enliven matters in the 39th minute. Steven Reid was so surprised that he volleyed high over the bar. Hyypia's understudy, Mauricio Pellegrino, then wastefully emulated Reid when a corner reached him.

The introduction of Riise for Valdimir Smicer gave Liverpool much-needed impetus after the interval. The Norwegian announced his arrival with a jarring challenge on Lucas Neill and promptly left the same defender trailing before cutting the ball back to Milan Baros. With time and space to select his shot, Baros sliced the ball over the top.

Blackburn, though scarcely enhancing the spectacle with their safety-first approach, demonstrated commendable discipline. They were particularly well served by their centre-backs, Andy Todd and Ryan Nelsen. Liverpool appeared bereft of ideas as to how to break them down, providing food for thought for Everton's spies in the stand

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Finnan, Carragher, Pellegrino, Warnock (Biscan, 82); Luis Garcia, Gerrard, Hamann, Smicer (Riise, h-t); Morientes, Baros (Nuñez, 70). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Hyypia.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Johansson (Matteo, 62); Emerton, Flitcroft, Mokoena, Reid, Pedersen; Stead (Gallagher, 75). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Tugay, Johnson.

Referee: B Knight (Kent).

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