Rafael Benitez's team won - and as this was only their second Premiership success of the season, they should perhaps be grateful for small mercies - but the score masked a poor performance against a Blackburn Rovers team reduced to 10 men for nearly an hour. Indeed, you needed perseverance to find the pluses.
One was the goal scored by Djibril Cissé with 15 minutes to go but, as this was only his second of the season and he missed four better opportunities, he hardly looked an emphatic answer to Liverpool's chronic lack of strike power. If the Frenchman was profligate he looked the embodiment of efficiency compared to Fernando Morientes, who produced two misses to rank with the worst of the season. Then there was Peter Crouch, who was withdrawn on 66 minutes after another performance to encourage questions about his £7m fee. Booed by England's supporters in midweek, the striker at least left the pitch to applause, but it seemed Anfield was paying its sympathy rather than its respect.
The match turned on the harsh 33rd-minute dismissal of Zurab Khizanishvili. The Georgian tripped Cissé but nicked the ball in the process and did not constitute the last man. "He wasn't bearing down on goal and we had players trying to get back, so I think the referee needs to look at his decision, " said Mark Hughes, the Blackburn manager. "He affected the outcome of the game."
Before the red card, Blackburn had looked capable of extending Liverpool. Afterwards the visitors conceded ground, and increasingly looked like a team searching for a set-piece. Liverpool, meanwhile, kept four men back to mark the visitors' isolated striker, Shefki Kuqi, and made little of their extra man.
Liverpool's Bolo Zenden hit the bar with the free-kick that followed the dismissal but there was a sense of desperation when Luis Garcia and Morientes were introduced to no avail. But when Robbie Savage brought down Zenden, Xabi Alonso tapped the free-kick to Cissé, who had made a hash of several earlier chances. This time, however, he drilled a splendid low shot past Brad Friedel from 25 yards. The sense of relief was palpable but any upsurge in optimism was quickly killed off by an exhibition of grand inaccuracy by Morientes. First, he dismally misdirected a cross from Luis Garcia, only to surpass this at the death when John Arne Riise's wickedly swerving drive bounced off Friedel's chest to leave Morientes with a gaping goal from four yards. Somehow he side-footed wide.
"It's important for centre-forwards to score," Benitez said, referring to Cissé, but it was equally pertinent to Morientes. The Spaniard was among the most feared strikers in Europe before he arrived at Anfield, but he cannot hit a barn door at the moment.Reuse content