Rovers crash in red mist

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Blackburn Rovers 2

Wilcox 25, Sherwood 83

Liverpool 3

Collymore 10, 21, Thomas 70

Attendance: 30,895

WITH Newcastle's shaky patch continuing, Liverpool came away from a fluctuating encounter at Ewood Park yesterday with a little life put back into their hopes of winning the Premiership. The gap between them and the leaders is now down to nine po ints, with both teams having 11 games left. Newcastle's visit to Anfield at the end of next month could yet count for a lot. Liverpool have reached the stage when they need to win virtually every match, and that they did so at this rarely breached citadel owed something to twolucky breaks, one at the start of the afternoon and one at the end. In between they had fluent spells and there was some superb shooting by Stan Collymore. But their possession football often lacked conviction, and if Blackburn had not fallen back on the long ball after making a strong initial recovery from going two goa ls down in the first 20 minutes, a lingering frailty in the Liverpool ranks might have been exposed. This was only Blackburn's second home League defeat of the season and their first since losing to Manchester United at the end of August. But Liverpool have become their bete noire. There was the defeat at Anfield on the last day of last season thattook just a little of the shine off winning the Premiership, and the 3-0 thumping they got when they returned in mid-September. Blackburn were in stunned mood again after 10 minutes when Liverpool went ahead with one of the most extraordinary and, if you were not a home supporter, comical goals of the season. Little had happened when Collymore, 25 yards out, mishit a left-foot sh ot which rolled gently towards Tim Flowers. The Blackburn goalkeeper bent down to pick it up, but as he did so the ball reared off the rutted surface in the goalmouth and over his right shoulder into the net - the footballing equivalent of an unplayable delivery. Collymore, who had already turned away, was sufficiently embarrassed to raise his arms to the crowd in a gesture of apology. But 10 minutes later he could truly congratulate himself when he serenely curled a free-kick round the side of the wall and past Flowers low to his left. An eager Blackburn hardly deserved to be so far adrift so early, and within five minutes they had pulled one back when Jason Wilcox stooped to flash a header past David James from Stuart Ripley's cross. But when Ripley departed with a hamstring injury ea rly in the second half, the service to the front men deteriorated and Alan Shearer had to do more foraging than even he has an appetite for. The outcome seemed settled when, in the 71st minute, Flowers could only half-stop a fierce shot by Michael Thomas from a lovely pass by Robbie Fowler, but Tim Sherwood made it 3-2 with six minutes left and Liverpool only survived after what looked like a clear case of hand-ball in the penalty area by John Barnes.