Liverpool 1 Blackburn Rovers 1: Reds' rearguard puts Benitez on the defensive

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The Independent Football

There was a moment during the discourse that followed the latest episode in Liverpool's uninspiring beginning to the Premiership season when it became clear that Rafael Benitez is less comfortable with his team's progress than he might care to let on.

It came with the well-worn observation that the campaign is a marathon rather than a sprint, but it was the words the Liverpool manager tagged on the end that exposed the disquiet he always prefers to hide. "It's a long race, the championship," Benitez mused. "You shouldn't look at the table every week." To which the standard response, equally well-worn, is to suggest that "he would say that, wouldn't he?" given Liverpool's current position - 10th, eight points behind the leaders.

Granted, the way Liverpool started last season was similarly unimpressive - and look how well they finished. Yet there is little comfort in that. The nine consecutive wins with which they ended last season suggested there would be four genuine contenders for the title this time but somehow Liverpool's momentum appears to have been lost.

The big worry - acknowledged by Benitez - is that a defence that registered an extraordinary 34 clean sheets last season suddenly looks insecure. Accident-prone in the defeat at Bolton that preceded the international break, they conceded another preventable goal on Saturday as the predatory Benni McCarthy put away a David Bentley cross that eluded Jamie Carragher and Steve Finnan in turn, with Sami Hyypia nowhere to be seen and goalkeeper Jose Reina a dithering observer.

Their collective uncertainty is unsettling the midfield and consequently undermining the effectiveness of the attack but Benitez knows this. "We need to be stronger at the back," he said. "If we are, we'll have more possession and create more chances in attack."

At least Craig Bellamy no longer has to wait for a first Premiership goal as a Liverpool player. He admitted it had been preying on his mind but the weight was lifted when Blackburn obligingly left their former colleague unmarked for Fabio Aurelio's second-half corner, allowing him to score with a stooping header.

Bellamy's goals last spring were a key factor in clinching Blackburn's place in the Uefa Cup but Mark Hughes' team appear to be rapidly adapting to life without the striker. "It's encouraging, not just in terms of the results but the manner of the performances," Hughes said.

Goals: McCarthy (17) 0-1; Bellamy (64) 1-1.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Pennant (Garcia, 53), Alonso, Gerrard, Aurelio; Crouch, Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Gonzalez, Paletta, Zenden.

Blackburn Rovers (4-1-3-2): Friedel; Emerton, Ooijer, Khizanishvili, Neill; Tugay (Mokoena, 72); Bentley, Savage, Pedersen (Gallagher, 72); McCarthy (Roberts, 80), Nonda. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), McEveley.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).

Booked: Liverpool Hyypia; Blackburn Bentley, Neill, Savage.

Man of the match: Bentley.

Attendance: 44,206.

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