Fowler's return party spoilt

Liverpool 3 Charlton Athletic 3 Fowler pen 33, 82,Berger 67 Rufus 24, Mendonca 61 Jones 83 Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 44,526
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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL RETAIN a worrying blind spot for the banana skin fixture. While the focus was on the return of Robbie Fowler to league action, attention was recklessly distracted away from a rousing Charlton display.

The celebrations had already started for Liverpool, twice behind, when Fowler bundled over his second of the game to take Liverpool in front. But Charlton's worldly-wise start to life in the Premiership has been hard-earned and well drilled and they were allowed to sneak in on the blind side when more haphazard Liverpool defending let Steve Jones volley an equaliser.

If Fowler was evidently short of match practice, his defence were even lower on composure. The Charlton attack were, at times, allowed the freedom of the Liverpool area, particularly for any aerial combat. The visitors could, and should, have scored many more in a game that did not once pause for breath. Of course, as joint Anfield manager Gerard Houllier had predicted, Fowler will gel with Michael Owen. The Liverpool management, though, have other more pressing concerns to address.

"It was just one of those days," was the honest but simplified assessment of Houllier. "We are not too unhappy with a point, taking into account we gave many balls away and many chances to them. They deserved the draw. Defensively we didn't play with the same kind of confidence and aggression as we are used to."

His partner Roy Evans focused on issues of personnel. "Robbie was decent but not razor-sharp but that comes back with games and he hasn't had too many of those. We make no bones about the fact that we search high and low for someone to play at the back. Barcelona played at Manchester United without a centre-back. There aren't too many about."

Charlton, who have not won at Anfield since 1954 and were quoted at 7- 1 against a victory yesterday, were a constant menace from the first whistle. Unlike other past Premiership relegation "certainties" such as Swindon or Barnsley, it appears that solid preparation will prevent the hindsight observation that their learning curve was too steep. Rather than sit back and frustrate Liverpool, Charlton prospered from carrying the attack to their opposition.

"We created five or six good ones. The major difference in the Premiership is that if you create chances, you have to take them. We are learning all the time and if anyone has seen us in the last six games we've played well and deserved our six points, probably a few more," said the Charlton manager Alan Curbishley.

Fowler, forced into action because of injury to Karlheinz Riedle and Sean Dundee, replaced Paul Ince, also injured, as the only change to Liverpool's beaten side at West Ham. For Charlton, Mark Kinsella passed a late fitness test and Richard Rufus returned from suspension after his opening day sending-off at Newcastle. For a long period, it looked as though his comeback would overshadow that of the Liverpool striker.

Charlton had dominated the opening stages. Shots from John Robinson, Kinsella and Clive Mendonca kept Brad Friedel on his toes but Neil Redfearn's decision to opt for long-range shots, ignoring Robinson in glaring space, prompted angry words on the pitch and in the dressing room at the interval. Then Rufus stamped his mark on the game, timing his leap for a Robinson free-kick to perfection and his header was no less precise.

His defensive timing, however, was called into question by Owen. Claims for one penalty were turned down but a more controversial decision was awarded in favour of the home side as Owen attempted to elude another Rufus lunge. Fowler strutted to the spot, sent Sasa Ilic to the right and caressed the ball to the left.

Phil Babb, a regular offender for Liverpool, was let off the hook when a stray pass was intercepted by Andy Hunt, whose first shot rebounded from the chest of Friedel and an instinctive follow-up was blasted over.

Having survived this scare, Liverpool still contrived to help Charlton regain their lead. Full-back Danny Mills carried the ball unimpeded from deep inside his own half to the edge of the Liverpool area. Mendonca was found without effort, or a marker, and shaped to curl around the keeper but opted to clip inside the near post.

The Charlton lead might have been increased when referee Paul Alcock failed to play advantage, after Robinson, who had played Hunt into a one- on-one situation, was fouled on the halfway line. Instead, Liverpool stormed back into the game when Patrik Berger thrashed a left-foot shot into the top corner.