Liverpool 1 Blackburn Rovers 1: Bellamy helps paper over the cracks of a crumbling season

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The Independent Football

Craig Bellamy's first Premiership goal since he left Blackburn for Anfield in the summer arrived at a timely moment, at least for the home side, as their Lancashire neighbours threatened to score their first victory over Liverpool in more than a decade.

The damage being done by Liverpool's inconsistent early-season form is starkly visible in the Premiership table, which shows an eight-point gap already between Rafael Benitez's side and the top. A return of one point from four away games will hardly inspire confidence when they travel to Manchester United next Saturday and now even the fallback of solid home form is looking open to question. Neither Dirk Kuyt nor Mohamed Sissoko, both missing through injury yesterday, is likely to play in Bordeaux in the Champions' League on Wednesday and probably not at Old Trafford.

Bellamy's goal effectively got them out of the mire yesterday. Benitez believed his team's dominance of the second half - in terms of possession, if not clear-cut chances - merited victory but there were plenty of frustrated voices among a 44,000 crowd that would give him an argument on that score. In reality, it had been as disjointed and unconvincing a display as they had witnessed so far from their side.

A point was as much as was due to them after they had fallen behind to a Benni McCarthy goal after 17 minutes. Indeed, Bellamy's equaliser in the 19th minute of the second half owed more to Blackburn taking their eye off the ball than to anything Liverpool did in possession.

If anyone knew the threat Bellamy might pose it was Blackburn, whose success last season in qualifying for Europe was pretty much down to his ability to punish a defensive lapse. Yet they still managed to leave him unmarked when Fabio Aurelio delivered a corner from the right and Bellamy had merely to stoop at the far post to head home.

"At least now we don't have to talk about when he will score," Benitez said afterwards. But, much as he sought to find positives in Liverpool's performance, there was no disguising his disappointment at seeing more points slip away.

"We knew it would be a hard game against Blackburn and going a goal behind made it harder," he said. "The defenders were in bad positions to deal with a difficult cross.

"But in the second half I felt we created enough to have won the game so it is disappointing that we did not."

Liverpool had started well enough and Andre Ooijer's goal-line clearance from Peter Crouch was an early escape for Blackburn but McCarthy's sixth goal of the season gave them the lead when David Bentley delivered a cross from the right that was too high for Jamie Carragher and then eluded Steve Finnan when it bounced. McCarthy kept his eye on the ball and finished with such calm assuredness which made one wonder how it took seven years for the South African striker to find a Premiership club.

Delighted though he was to see his £2.5 million signing from Porto continue to reward his investment, the Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes, was not surprised that Bellamy popped up to deny him victory. Indeed, he had nothing but warm words for his former player.

"Craig is an exceptional footballer who was a big part of our success last season," the Blackburn manager said. "And while I can't say I'm pleased for him today I'm sure he will go on to play a big part for Liverpool."

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