Blackburn Rovers 0 Liverpool 0: Benitez fails to silence critics as Liverpool draw blank

Reds halt the Rovers juggernaut but do not have the look of champions
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The Independent Football

It is difficult to know where Liverpool are this season. If they are going through the blip every team suffers they are picking up points in difficult circumstances, are unbeaten in the Premier League and are just six points behind the leaders. The worry is, this could be as good as it gets.

Last night they stopped the juggernaut that is Blackburn Rovers – seven successive wins before this game – but it would take the most red-eyed Merseysider to suggest this was a full 90 minutes worthy of potential champions. There were plenty matching the description in the visiting end at Ewood Park last night and their calls for more expansive football suggested they, too, were less than enamoured with what they witnessed.

Blackburn Rovers hit the post and the bar in the first half and Liverpool carried a genuine and persistent threat only when Peter Crouch was introduced in the 72nd minute. Fittingly for those who are sometimes mystified by Rafael Benitez's selections, the England striker came closest to scoring for Liverpool, having a header cleared off the line.

Yesterday the Liverpool manager chose to employ Steven Gerrard for the bulk of the game as a second striker behind Dirk Kuyt, a partnership that carried a minimal threat. Before Crouch came on as a substitute Liverpool barely created a chance; after his appearance they produced five. There is a lesson there somewhere and one that Benitez may need to heed with Besiktas at Anfield in the Champions' League on Tuesday.

The Liverpool supporters chanted Crouch's name at the end of the match but Benitez gave no hints that he was persuaded. "With the number of chances we had we are disappointed," he said. "On the plus side, if we create the same against Besiktas we will score."

Mark Hughes, the Blackburn manager, believed Liverpool's formation was a compliment to the way his side are playing. "Teams don't come here expecting to win," he said, "they anticipate a tough game. We have played three of the top four and are unbeaten. Let's hope we complete the set against Manchester United next weekend."

Hughes said his team missed their chance in the first half and the facts bore him out. The visitors did not have a shot on target until the 41st minute – Ryan Babel cutting in from the left to force Brad Friedel to dive to his left – while Blackburn hit the frame of the Liverpool goal twice.

After 35 minutes, Morten Gamst Pedersen headed into David Bentley's path and the England winger clipped the outside of the post with a low, left-foot shot. In stoppage time they got closer, David Dunn curling a shot from 25 yards which defeated Jose Reina's dive only to thump against the bar. Blackburn also looked the more able side at the start of the second half and it required a brave block from Sami Hyypia to deny Benni McCarthy after John Arne Riise had made a hash of a clearance.

The home side also thought they should have had a penalty after 65 minutes when Andre Ooijer's shot on the turn hit Jamie Carragher. It would have been a harsh verdict, however, to rule anything but ball to hand.

In between, Liverpool might have scored themselves, though the opportunity also underlined the lack of understanding at the vanguard of their attack. Kuyt had time and space as he progressed down the right flank and Gerrard certainly had the inclination as he raced for the near post. That was where the problem kicked in because neither appeared to know what the other planned and the moved ended in an embarrassing short pass straight to Friedel.

By now the visiting fans were getting restless and they warmly applauded the arrival of Crouch with 18 minutes to go. Only then, with Gerrard in his rightful place in midfield, did Liverpool perform as expected. Friedel pulled off a splendid save as the Liverpool captain barnstormed forward to meet Kuyt's pass, and with nine minutes to go Bentley cleared off the line to deny Crouch's header.

Gerrard was denied by another Friedel save and Kuyt flicked over from point-blank range to reinforce what might have been for Liverpool. They may come to regard this as a missed chance.