Fowler's late strike denies Liverpool victory

Manchester City 2 Liverpool 2
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Manchester City's season, which promised so much that the words "Champions' League" were being mentioned, is beginning to look as tatty and forlorn as torn and discarded Christmas wrapping paper. Much more of this and the bottom three will beckon.

This result means City have gone 11 matches without a win and have picked up just three Premiership points from their last 24. The really worrying thing, though, is that it is difficult to imagine them playing much better than they did for much of yesterday, yet they still needed a goal with virtually the game's last kick from Robbie Fowler to get even a draw.

For 45 minutes they pummeled Liverpool, went ahead through Nicolas Anelka's goal and then surrendered their advantage as the visitors improved from the dreadful to the adequate, picking up goals from Vladimir Smicer and Dietmar Hamann. But, with the points seemingly heading back to Merseyside, Fowler struck.

"We got the very least we deserved," the City manager, Kevin Keegan, said. "We battered Liverpool in the first half but in the end I was happy with a point. It was a strange game in that respect."

City's run had been so depressing you expected to find their confidence dragging along the turf by their studs, but they tore into Liverpool and, in the first half, were winning the 40-60 balls, never mind the 50-50 ones.

Spearheading this effort was Fowler, who looked like a different man among the familiarity of his former team-mates. His first effort, a shot on the run after seven minutes, soared by a post and he had further efforts and a good penalty claim turned down, before Anelka, another former Liverpool player, opened the scoring just before the half-hour.

Anelka had not struck since October, largely because he has missed any number of opportunities, and it seemed he would be ruing another lost chance when he was put clear by Steve McManaman only for Jerzy Dudek to stick out a boot. From the corner, however, Fowler was wrestled to the ground by John Arne Riise. Anelka had beaten Dudek from the penalty spot last May and he did so again, tucking his shot into the corner just beyond the reach of the Liverpool goalkeeper.

Liverpool gave a hint of an improvement in the 53rd minute when Harry Kewell's back heel gave Smicer a chance to test David Seaman's reflexes at the near post, and the City goalkeeper came to the rescue again 10 minutes later after Heskey's header gave Kewell a chance to shoot. However, from the resultant Danny Murphy corner, Smicer scored with a near-post header from seven yards.

Liverpool smelt blood and went ahead with 11 minutes to go. Murphy, an increasing influence on the game, crossed and although Claudio Reyna cleared with a header, Hamann's left foot smashed it into the top corner from a range of 25 yards.

City had the look of a team who believed calamity was imminent, only for luck, not always dressed in a sky blue shirt this season, suddenly to rally to their side. With the game deep into stoppage time, Anelka hit a thunderous shot that Dudek did well to parry and, although Sinclair's follow-up volley was miscued and wide, it turned into the perfect pass for Fowler, who tapped in from three yards.

"People underestimate Robbie because he has a bit of a Jack-the-lad reputation but he has a lot of pride and ambition," Keegan said of his late saviour. "At the moment he looks like he is going to score every game." As City, fourth in October, drift towards the Premiership's danger zone, he may need to.

Goals: Anelka (29, pen) 1-0; Smicer (64) 1-1; Hamann (79) 1-2; Fowler (90) 2-2.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Seaman 6; Sommeil 4, Dunne 7, Distin 5, Tarnat 6 (Sinclair 4, 70); Wright-Phillips 5, Reyna 5, Bosvelt 4, McManaman 7 (Sibierski, 78); Anelka 6, Fowler 5. Substitutes not used: Wiekens, Macken, Ellegaard (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 5; Otsemobor 3 (Henchoz 5, 27), Biscan 4, Hyypia 5, Riise 4; Murphy 7, Gerrard 5 (Diouf, 58), Hamann 5, Smicer 5 (Sinama-Pongolle 5, 76); Kewell 6, Heskey 5. Substitutes not used: Cheyrou, Luzi (gk).

Referee: M Riley (West Yorks) 6.

Bookings: Man City: Sommeil. Liverpool: Kewell, Biscan.

Attendance: 47,201.

Man of the match: McManaman.