Riggott exposes Benitez's lack of firepower

Middlesbrough 2 Liverpool 0
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The Independent Football

Despite being galvanised by the return of Steven Gerrard as a substitute, strikerless Liverpool were well short of an enterprising Middlesbrough, although a debatably disallowed goal and a magnificent save by Mark Schwarzer prevented them from sneaking something from this game.

Despite being galvanised by the return of Steven Gerrard as a substitute, strikerless Liverpool were well short of an enterprising Middlesbrough, although a debatably disallowed goal and a magnificent save by Mark Schwarzer prevented them from sneaking something from this game.

Liverpool have now failed to score in five of their past six visits to Teesside and found a defence anchored by Gareth Southgate and Chris Riggott, and featuring the impressive 18-year-old Tony McMahon, unbreachable. Only twice did they get behind Boro, a couple of minutes either side of half-time when the home side were ahead through Riggott.

Just before the break, only a refereeing decision prevented Liverpool from drawing level as Luis Garcia calmly stroked the ball into the net. He was in an obviously offside position, but Harry Kewell's through-ball had ricocheted to him via a Middlesbrough leg. "I have seen it on TV, and he scores,'' said the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez.

Just after the break, only a goalkeeping reaction prevented Liverpool once again. Kewell met Xavi Alonso's free-kick with a downward header from point-blank range, but somehow Schwarzer, the Australian's international captain in midweek, scooped the ball up over the bar. "You talk about defining moments in games and that was one of them,'' said the Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren. "It was a magnificent save and if they had equalised it might have been a different game.''

Benitez rejoined the debate with: "They score, we score but the ref says no and things change. We start the second half with an opportunity to score and then they score again and so we lose 2-0.''

Countered McClaren: "I thought the way we were playing, especially in the second half, we were always looking as if we were going to score more goals.''

Last November, Liverpool came to the Riverside for the 13th league game of the season at the top of the table but with Michael Owen a forlorn, lone forward. They disappointed - nay, dismayed - in a drab goal-free draw. This November, Liverpool came to the Riverside for their 13th league game of this season without a single recognised striker in their starting line-up. Amid an injury crisis, Luis Garcia and Kewell were pressed forward.

After a shabby opening, a wonderful ball by McMahon broke Liverpool's defence and Ray Parlour burst onto it. Rather than shoot, Parlour crossed towards Mark Viduka but, desperately, Jamie Carragher intervened. Franck Queudrue kicked air in the next move rather than Parlour's dangerous low cross, and then the French defender followed up with a leggy skip through his opponent's defence. The goal seemed inevitable and it duly came from Stewart Downing's cross which Riggott - still up after a corner - volleyed home from a few yards without a challenge.

Gerrard was introduced in the 55th minute and although it is eight weeks since he broke his metatarsal at Old Trafford, he quickly regained his passing range, trying all angles to unhinge Middlesbrough's tight back line.

Luis Garcia powerfully volleyed his free-kick centimetres wide, but then at the other end Parlour volleyed just wide.

Decisively, in the 62nd minute, Downing intercepted Alonso's poor pass and found Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. He took his time but slipped the ball through to Bolo Zenden who had exquisitely timed his run into the box. The Dutchman took one touch and then steered home his fifth goal in six matches.

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