A blatant dive from striker David Ngog spared Liverpool their sixth and most humiliating defeat of the Premier League season. The Birmingham midfielder, Lee Carsley, over whose feet the French striker hurled himself in the 70th minute, said the award of the penalty that Steven Gerrard converted to earn Liverpool a 2-2 draw was "an embarrassing case of cheating".
Both Liverpool and Birmingham managers agreed that Ngog may have deceived the referee, Peter Walton, while Rafael Benitez conceded the French striker, who opened the scoring in the 13th minute, told him there had been no contact. It was arguably worse that Eduardo da Silva's dive against Celtic that earned the Arsenal striker a two-game Uefa ban that was overturned on appeal.
"I was absolutely nowhere near him, it was a joke," said Carsley, who had spent many seasons at Everton before moving to St Andrew's. "I told the referee that if he had booked me or sent me off, it would have made me feel better.
"I am sure he [Ngog] has a family and, if I went home having done that, I would have been embarrassed. You should teach kids an example but this was an embarrassing case of cheating. The lad took a chance and got his team a point and I am sure they will be patting him on the back."
While the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, always vehemently denied that Eduardo had dived, Benitez seemed to accept that Walton had made a mistake. "It could be that it was no penalty," the Liverpool manager said after a result which meant he has won one of his last nine fixtures. "I have spoken to David and he says that there might not have been contact. But we cannot change the situation and you have to say that at time we have had no luck ourselves."
Benitez's argument that Liverpool's pressure after falling 2-1 behind at the interval had been so fierce and sustained that they deserved something, made no impression on his opposite number, Alex McLeish.
"It was a great point and, if you had offered me that before the game, I would have bitten your hand off," said the Birmingham manager. "But we were unlucky not to get three. We were weathering a storm but I thought we were comfortable – some of our defending was awesome. Sometimes, you get the feeling that you are not going to lose a goal and I felt that tonight. When I look back tomorrow, I will probably feel I will never have a better chance of getting three points at Anfield."
Just as the great Liverpool sides fashioned by Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley never appeared able to beat Leicester, Birmingham have been Benitez's bogey side and this result maintained his record of never having beaten them in the league.
Before kick-off, he commented that the injury list was "the worst I have ever known as a manager." With the loss to hamstring injuries of Albert Riera, who was making his comeback after a month out with injury, and Yossi Benayoun, that crisis has deepened.
There would have been some raised eyebrows in the England camp that Gerrard was brought on for Reira, who Benitez said had asked to play, just before the interval. Liverpool had requested Fabio Capello not to include him in the England squad that plays Brazil at the weekend – but the Liverpool captain was fit enough for Anfield, which to his legions of admirers on the Kop was just as well.