One day, Graeme Souness reflected with the grimmest of smiles, he would look back on this part of the season and "have a chuckle". Since it has encompassed Blackburn's exit from the Uefa and Carling Cups and four straight Premiership defeats at home, the humour would have to be of the blackest hue.
Football's capacity for delivering poetic justice should never be underestimated. The build-up to this third-round tie had centred on the horrendous tackle by Lucas Neill that broke Jamie Carragher's leg and reduced relations between the two clubs to a cold-war level. Last night the match turned the moment Neill clipped the ankles of Florent Sinama-Pongolle and not only conceded his third penalty of the season, emphatically converted by Danny Murphy, but earned himself a red card.
Neill did not exactly receive a generous reception while he was on the pitch. Although the tie was nominally a home fixture, the miserable turn-out from Blackburn fans ensured the Australian received constant, voluble reminders of the Carragher tackle from the thousands of Liverpudlians who jammed the Darwen End.
Rovers fans who stayed away or left early missed a bizarre fightback as, 4-1 down and hopelessly outgunned, Blackburn scored twice in the closing moments. A beautifully taken chance from Barry Ferguson and an opportunistic strike from Dwight Yorke would, though, have provided the coldest of comforts. Souness tried to drag positives out of this defeat, claiming that Ferguson was the best player on the pitch. Those who saw El Hadji Diouf marauding down the left flank to create three Liverpool goals might disagree, although the Scot did send a free-kick on to the bar just before Yorke scored the night's first goal from David Thompson's cross.
The Trinidadian has been hovering by the exits at Ewood Park and many, including Matt Jansen, who was left on the bench, did not expect him to start. "The most important thing about Dwight was the effort he put in," his manager said. "If he does that, he's in the team."
Emile Heskey has enjoyed far firmer backing at Anfield and yesterday he demonstrated the full range of his ability to inspire and frustrate. Heskey admitted he might have had six and he missed the easiest of his opportunities, a one-on-one with Brad Friedel and a penalty that would have given the England striker his hat-trick but which was hit tamely at the Blackburn keeper.
And yet he scored twice from emphatic, punishing headers which made the most of Diouf's work along the left. Diouf also gave Harry Kewell, whose run at a disintegrating defence had triggered the second penalty of the night, the simplest of tap-ins for Liverpool's fourth. At one stage it looked as if Gérard Houllier's revenge would not just be served cold but encased in ice but whenever he is embroiled in a spat, the Liverpool manager always says he wants his talking done on the pitch. Last night his team shouted loudly.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Babbel, Taylor, Gresko (Jansen, 83); Thompson (Emerton, 59), Ferguson, Tugay, Reid (Gallagher, 81); Yorke, Cole. Substitutes not used: Johansson, Yelldell (gk).
Liverpool (4-4-2): Kirkland; Biscan, Hyypia (Riise, h-t), Henchoz, Traoré; Diouf, Murphy, Gerrard (Hamann, 81), Le Tallec; Sinama-Pongolle (Kewell, h-t), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Finnan, Dudek (gk).
Referee: M Riley (Leeds).
FOURTH ROUND DRAW
Aston Villa v Crystal Palace
Reading v Chelsea
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City
Southampton v Portsmouth
Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United
Arsenal v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Middlesbrough v Everton
Ties to be played week commencing 1 DecemberReuse content