Patched-up Rovers make a vital point
Liverpool 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
Sunderland, Swansea, Norwich and now Blackburn; this has been a season at Anfield littered with draws against sides Liverpool would have reckoned to have beaten. Given the lack of anything decent to watch over Christmas, those who streamed away from the stadium yesterday might spend time working out where Liverpool would be had they won these matches. The answer is a comfortable third.
When Norwich came to Anfield they were kept afloat by some superlative goalkeeping from John Ruddy. Now, it was Blackburn's reserve keeper, Mark Bunn, and a 17-year-old left-back, Adam Henley, making his full debut, who salvaged a point that a makeshift, patched-up side deserved if only for their sheer guts and perseverance.
The final two shots saw Bunn somehow turn away a flick from Andy Carroll and then, from the resultant corner, Henley cleared off the line from Daniel Agger. The last time Bunn had started a Premier League game was the 3-1 victory over Liverpool at Ewood Park that put Roy Hodgson's regime out of its misery in January. The consequences this time will be rather less serious.
The Luis Suarez affair has camouflaged what has been a relatively disappointing Christmas for Liverpool and, although Kenny Dalglish argued that they created numerous chances in the second half, it was against a Blackburn side that was able to field only one first-choice defender, the magnificent Chris Samba, and which has not kept a clean sheet since April.
"My feelings are the same as they have been after a few other games here," said Dalglish. "Once again, we have not converted enough chances. We can't keep saying we have come up against an inspired goalkeeper; we should have walked away with all three points in most of our home games."
The Kop at Boxing Day is always supposed to smell of freshly unwrapped eau-de-cologne rather than the usual earthier smells. Many fans also appeared to have found Suarez T-shirts under the tree, although in contrast to the goalless draw at Wigan last week, the players did not wear them.
The home fans' support was total and they kept up a barrage of the song they had adapted for Suarez, "I Can't Get Enough", to the extent that Depeche Mode might have wondered if they were entitled to royalties.
It drowned out any abuse directed towards Steve Kean, which against Bolton last Tuesday had become so vicious that the Bishop of Blackburn felt the need to intervene. Perhaps because they were away, perhaps because there were more young footballers who were less likely to be infected by defeatism, and perhaps because so little was expected, Blackburn played reasonably well. Kean had told them they could either be scared or use it as an opportunity.
Before what he said became more important than what he did, the chief criticism of Suarez was that he required a lot of opportunities to score. Here, there was a free-kick swung into the Anfield Road End, a shot into the side-netting, one that finished on the top of the net and a header wide. Amid all this, he set up Carroll for a goal disallowed for offside while Bunn made a point-blank save with both hands a foot away from the Geordie's boots.
Along the sides of the pitch ran an advert that announced: "Turkey welcomes you". A day after Christmas, this would have generated feelings of mild nausea, and, metaphorically, Liverpool spent the first half asleep on the sofa. They would probably have been booed off were the scores goalless, instead they found themselves one down.
These days most gardens have sheds that are more mobile than Ayegbeni Yakubu but the Nigerian is a constant hulking threat and just before the interval, he forced Agger to concede a corner. It was taken by Morten Gamst Pedersen, who was probably relieved that his two-match stint as an experimental left-back was over. The ball was directed at Mauro Formica but Charlie Adam swung out a leg to meet it and deflected it into his own net.
The response was swift and persistent, although a more confident side would probably have forced more than just an equaliser that arrived eight minutes after the restart when Maxi Rodriguez scored his 11th goal in a dozen starts, rising above Jason Lowe at the far post. Then, to a rolling roar, Dalglish introduced Steven Gerrard for the first time since October. His last game had been the 1-1 draw with Norwich, decided by some inspired goalkeeping and the Liverpool captain was to find that in two months not much had changed.
Home help: Anfield struggles
13 Aug: Sunderland, D 1-1
Luis Suarez skied a penalty and Stewart Downing hit bar before visitors fight back.
22 Oct: Norwich, D 1-1
Visiting keeper John Ruddy was in fine form while Skrtel and Suarez, twice, hit wood-work as hosts had 25 shots.
5 Nov: Swansea, D 0-0
Keeper Michel Vorm per-formed heroics for visitors; Carroll hit the bar and Kuyt had effort ruled out. Just the 18 shots.
27 Nov: Man City, D 1-1
Hosts had better of game, but were frustrated by Joe Hart, including sublime save from Carroll.
26 Dec: Blackburn, D 1-1
Despite facing 28 shots, Rovers held on, with Mark Bunn, making first league appearance in a year, defiant.
Substitutes: Liverpool Gerrard 7 (Adam, 69), Bellamy (Rodriguez, 81). Blackburn Rovers Vukcevic (Hoilett, 75), Petrovic (Dunn, 84), Goodwillie (Yakubu, 90).
Booked: Liverpool Agger.
Man of the match Samba.
Attempts on target: Liverpool 13 Blackburn 2.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).
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