Blackburn Rovers 0 Liverpool 0: Benitez stays mum over Crouch role

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The Independent Football

It probably does not pay Peter Crouch to muse too deeply on what might elevate him from the position of fourth-choice striker at Liverpool. To the myriad of tactical complexities proffered for his exclusion this season came a more prosaic reason for his inclusion in the squad here: Andriy Voronin's wife's labour pains.

Mrs Voronin gave birth on Saturday and when Rafael Benitez concluded that the Ukrainian's mind would not be on the job, Crouch was at least granted the place on the bench.

One welcome new arrival eventually spawned another on 72 minutes, when Crouch limbered into this game and began providing some of the cutting edge – five clear chances immediately materialising – which had previously been so painfully missing.

Liverpool's metamorphosis into a genuine threat after their fans' vocal demands for Crouch had been answered was hardly unexpected. He proved in Istanbul, where he created a goal and almost scored in a seven-minute appearance two weeks ago, that he adds potency to Liverpool's perspiration.

But Crouch should not be holding his breath about his chance to deliver much more of the same when Besiktas arrive for the return match tomorrow.

Benitez's steadfast refusal, in the face of considerable evidence, to agree that Crouch's arrival had transformed this game – Blackburn's tiredness and Harry Kewell's appearance were equally significant, he insisted – suggest that the gusto with which Crouch has seized his fleeting chances this season has placed him no further up the Liverpool pecking order.

Benitez declined to respond to suggestions that Crouch is destined to be a David Fairclough for this Anfield era, never doing much more than warming the bench, but his silence on that matter seemed to speak louder than words on Saturday night. "Some players, maybe, when they have 20 minutes or half an hour, they are more important for the team," was all Benitez would say.

For his part, Crouch is baffled by a manager who seems as hell-bent on keeping him down the pecking order as he was on picking him when he looked so awkward in his early days at Anfield. The suggestion is that Benitez has suspicions about Crouch's so-called glamour lifestyle. In retrospect, cheering girlfriend Abi Clancy on Hell's Kitchen might not have helped his cause. But let's face it, this is no David Beckham.

Perhaps Benitez might point to the fact that Crouch has looked more impressive when arriving from the bench. But, for times in the first hour of this match, with the gap between the League's top two there for the narrowing, Liverpool lacked anyone answering to the name of "striker".

It was Steven Gerrard who made the meaningful strides on goal from his free role behind Dirk Kuyt. But a cameo in the 61st minute said everything about the intuition which was lacking. As Kuyt honed in on goal from the right, Gerrard raced into the penalty area in anticipation, free of his marker. The pass arrived just after Gerrard's run had taken him beyond the dead-ball line and he just knelt there, eyes closed.

Mark Hughes, for whom David Dunn, David Bentley and Brett Emerton purred in midfield, batted away suggestions his side would challenge Liverpool for a top-four place though, in truth, Liverpool will dictate that. How much they will improve when the missing spine of Daniel Agger, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres return is one of the league's great mysteries.

Blackburn (4-4-2) Friedel; Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock; Emerton, Bentley, Dunn (Tugay, 56), Pedersen; Santa Cruz, McCarthy (Derbyshire, 89). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Khizanishvili, Treacy.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1) Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Benayoun (Crouch, 72), Sissoko, Mascherano, Babel (Kewell, 63); Gerrard; Kuyt. Substitutes not used: Martin (gk), Arbeloa, Lucas.

Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Liverpool Carragher.

Man of the match: Bentley

Attendance: 30,033.

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