Crouch rescues Liverpool as fans direct anger at owners

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The Independent Online

Another turbulent day at Anfield. At least Peter Crouch was able to salvage something on the pitch, his goal two minutes from time preventing Aston Villa departing with all three points last night. But a 2-2 draw did little to still the growing turmoil surrounding Liverpool's American ownership and, more pressingly, left the club in fifth place in the Premier League, outside a Champions League qualification spot and, to add insult, behind Everton.

Any failings on the pitch, though, could not distract Liverpool's supporters from their main target of the night – making plain their rapidly increasing antipathy towards Tom Hicks and George Gillett as the club's owners. If the supporters had their way the potential suitors of the Dubai International Capital (DIC), the Arab investment group, would be welcomed with open arms.

With an array of banners ranging from the less than subtle "You messed up Vietnam, you messed up Iraq, don't mess up the Scousers by giving Rafa the sack" to the plain "One DIC is better than two", the mood in the stands has become all too apparent to the players.

"It's not just this week, it's been going on for some time now," said Steven Gerrad, Liverpool's captain, after the game. "It's certainly not helping the players but I've got to be careful what I say about the situation. We know what's going on but as players you've got a job to do on the pitch and you try to put what is going on off the pitch to the back of your mind. But sometimes it's impossible when it's every day."

Hicks offered the supporters further ammunition after an interview he gave to the Major League Baseball website came to light. In it Hicks, who owns the Texas Rangers baseball and Dallas Stars ice hockey franchises, said that he would consider using any extra money from Liverpool to help fund his US sporting interests.

Crouch's equaliser rescued Liverpool after Marlon Harewood, with an overhead kick, and Fabio Aurelio's own-goal had seen resurgent Villa score twice in three minutes to overturn Yossi Benayoun's first-half strike. It was Liverpool's fourth successive draw in the Premier League and leaves them 14 points behind Manchester United and Arsenal, albeit with a game in hand. They are now level on 40 points with Aston Villa and Manchester City and it is catching neighbours Everton, two

points better off in fourth having played a game more, rather than any thoughts of greater glories that will most occupy Gerrard and his manager, Rafael Benitez, for the remainder of the season.

"We'll keep going, it's not over until it's over. But it's certainly not good enough," said Gerrard.

A cautious Benitez would not be drawn on events off the field. "I have heard what Steven has said, but I would rather not go that way," he said.

Benitez, who has been suffering from a severe bout of flu, added: "It would be easy for me to say, yes, the problems are affecting the team.

"Maybe they are, maybe they are not. We should have won the match. We failed to score the second goal when we were on top and we were the better side. That is the recurring problem, that is the real reason.

"If we had scored a second, we would be talking now about a great game and result. It's difficult to explain. We were attacking and controlling. You could see they were not creating anything. But after two free kicks we were under pressure and very nervous.

"It's clear [that] if you can win and you can play well everyone will be happier. For me, it's just [we have] to take our chances and people will be calm and I think we will play better."

The result adds to Aston Villa's quiet resurgence. They remain level on points with Liverpool and the draw means that Martin O'Neill's side have taken exactly the same number of points, 18, on their travels as Liverpool have from 11 Premier League games at Anfield. Liverpool's four home wins are one fewer than Sunderland have managed at the Stadium of Light in the Premier League this season.

"In the first half we did not play the way we know we can," said O'Neill. "Maybe it was the Anfield atmosphere, but I told them at the break they needed to show self-belief.

"It took time to get there, but we started to turn the tide. Marlon Harewood made a big impression when he came on and I am just disappointed we did not see it through to the end and a victory.

"I suppose 2-2 was a fair result in the end. But it was a great effort from my team."

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