Kewell's waning powers add to Benitez woes

Liverpool 0 - Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Online

Shortly after arriving at Anfield this summer, Rafael Benitez reminisced about a previous trip to England when, during his coaching sabbatical, he visited Old Trafford and witnessed a forward's display of such quality it left an indelible impression on his memory.

Shortly after arriving at Anfield this summer, Rafael Benitez reminisced about a previous trip to England when, during his coaching sabbatical, he visited Old Trafford and witnessed a forward's display of such quality it left an indelible impression on his memory.

Benitez was transfixed by the sight of a precocious young Leeds United striker tormenting Manchester United's experienced centre-back Jaap Stam and, like most observers at the time, left convinced Harry Kewell was destined for greatness.

How ironic then that, five years later, the Liverpool manager is now forced to watch in frustration at Kewell's forlorn attempts to rediscover that exhilarating form of yesteryear at a time when his current club need him most.

Already a striker down following the pre-season sale of Michael Owen, and having lost Djibril Cissé for the season , Benitez desperately needs his remaining attacking options to deliver the goods between now and the January transfer window when, notwithstanding the gloomy financial results published by the club last week, he is expected to move for Real Madrid's Fernando Morientes.

That need was brought even more sharply into focus on Saturday when, with Milan Baros also missing, Kewell was asked to fill a central striking role alongside the raw Florent Sinama-Pongolle in a partnership that singularly failed to ruffle Birmingham's admirable back-four.

The Australian has now failed to score in 29 matches and his on-field demeanour did little to suggest his fortunes will soon change. Kewell's situation, however, at least brought words of comfort from former team-mate Emile Heskey, who missed a glorious early opportunity to score on his return to Anfield and is no stranger to goal droughts himself.

"It's hard for Harry because he's not really a striker, he's a winger first and foremost. It's just a case of him sticking at it," Heskey said. "The team creates chances and he should get a few eventually. If he gets a goal that will help him. I know how high the expectations are here.

"Its tough and you just have to try and blank it out of your mind and play your game," he added. "Just try and concentrate on what you know you can do well. It's hard but I am sure Harry will come through, he's got the quality to do that. If you look at Liverpool at the moment they have very few striking options. It's like Arsenal losing Henry and then Reyes breaking a leg."

Benitez's forward concerns with have found a sympathetic ear from Steve Bruce, who has watched his side struggle for goals ever since losing last season's leading scorer Mikael Forrsell as well as Clinton Morrison. City would have drawn another blank too, had it not been for the laps in concentration among the Liverpool defence that allowed unmarked substitute Darren Anderton to score with 13 minutes to go after Matthew Upson headed down Robbie Savage's cross.

For Anderton there was relief at ending yet another spell on the sidelines, although his contribution could not overshadow the performance of left-back Julian Gray, tipped by Bruce for future England honours.

"Anybody could have scored that goal today," admitted Anderton. "It was just nice to get the win and get the right headlines again. Hopefully there will be more games and more goals. We have played better than that before today and not got a result."

Goal: Anderton 77 (0-1)

Liverpool (4-4-2): Kirkland; Josemi, Hyypia, Carragher, Traoré; Luis Garcia, Hamann (Biscan, 85), Alonso, Riise (Mellor,73); Sinama-Pongolle (Finnan, 65), Kewell. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Diao.

Birmingham City (4-5-1): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Gray; Gronkjaer (Lazaridis, 63), Izzet (Clapham, 88), Savage, Clemence (Anderton, 63), Johnson; Heskey. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Yorke.

Referee: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Liverpool: Josemi, Luis Garcia, Hamann. Birmingham: Johnson.

Man of the match: Maik Taylor.

Attendance: 42,669.

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