Hughes livid as referee makes an ass of the law

Liverpool 1 Blackburn Rovers 0

The decision was harsh for two reasons. Cissé, who but for one blessed exception, would spend most of the afternoon displaying the finishing touch of somebody who had bags of cement attached to both ankles, was running at right angles and with no guarantee of control as the Blackburn defence streamed back into the box. If Khizanishvili was the last man, it was by a fraction, and closing. This is a law which is supposed to target extreme cases of cynical defence more punitively than is possible with the award of a free-kick. This, however, was not extreme cynicism. It was, at worst, a case of mistiming, Khizanishvili's intention plainly being to play the ball.

Still, there was a limit to sympathy for Hughes. He had used up his compassion quota around the time he explained how he had twice dismissed Jamie Carragher from his company when the stand-in Liverpool captain sought to explain why he had been in such animated discussion with the referee before the decision was made. Hughes thought it despicable than one fellow pro should endanger the presence on the field of another. It is an ethical discussion in which, upon reflection, he might want to include his own Robbie Savage.

Hughes's central argument that the referee had changed the nature of the game was far-fetched. Blackburn scored a famous, and entirely deserved, victory at Old Trafford a few weeks ago, but even before going down to 10 men they were scarcely recognisable as the same force. This was particularly true of their marking. It was casual to the point of loitering.

Either side of the fatal decision, Cissé's profligacy was rampant. Once he tried to scissor-kick a booming, perfectly placed corner by Xabi Alonso that demanded a straightforward application of the head.

That was evidence of a man who didn't truly believe in his finishing touch in the air. That phrase finishing touch, though, is perhaps one only to be used by the particularly callous in the presence of Peter Crouch. At least Cissé redeemed himself by thumping the ball past Brad Friedel from 25 yards after Alonso rolled the ball into his path from a free-kick. Crouch, whose treatment by England supporters recently appears more than anything to be a virulent case of "heightism", is in increasingly dire need of a goal. His touches remain impressively acute at times, but his body language is becoming almost mute in its lack of confidence. His coach, Rafael Benitez, having invested £7m, is naturally keeping the faith, insisting, "If he keeps doing what he is doing he will be fine."

Cissé echoed that endorsement from his own mountain top of redemption, saying: "I thought the partnership with Peter Crouch was good. I have not spoken to Peter about the criticism he has had. He is a good player with a lot of qualities. He has to be confident of his quality and not listen to the criticism. It will be OK for him." Cissé is even more sanguine about his own future. He said: "I just want all the speculation to stop now.

I have 11 goals [for Liverpool and France] this season and I'm happy with that. There is really no problem between me and the coach and me and the club. I'm happy to stay - why would I want to leave?" Maybe the idea is rooted in the fact that he becomes a brooding rent-a-quote whenever he joins France and collides with a journalist with half a page of column inches to spare.

Despite the points, this was scarcely an uplifting Liverpool performance. When Fernando Morientes appeared in place of Crouch he rivalled Cissé in wasteful finishing, missing at least two good chances. The crowd became restive but not indignant. Maybe this was because it's hard to barrack a coach who won you the European Cup in his first year.

Also, perhaps, the Liverpool fans, having noted that their team were still working on their attempt to produce genuinely creative football, were adding another notch to their reputation for being the most intelligent fans in English football. Few coaches, surely, have earned the right to patience more than Benitez when he says that Liverpool, like Peter Crouch, are still very much work in progress. This was a bad day at the building site. It happens.

Goal: Cissé (75) 1-0.

Liverpool (3-5-2) Reina; Josemi (Garcia, 60), Carragher, Traoré; Finnan, Sissoko, Alonso, Zenden, Warnock (Riise,74); Cissé, Crouch (Morientes, 66). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Hamann.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel: Neill, Khizanishvili, Nelsen, Gray; Bentley, Savage, Tugay (Mokoena, 67), Pedersen (Emerton, 67); Dickov (Todd, 35), Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Reid.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Booked: Blackburn Bentley, Neill, Savage. Sent off: Blackburn: Khizanishvili.

Man of the match: Alonso.

Attendance: 44,697.

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