Digital Publisher of the Year | Thursday 12 November 2009 | Liverpool feed

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Liverpool 2 Birmingham City 2: match report

Read a full match report of the Premier League game between Liverpool and Birmingham City at Anfield on Monday Nov 9, 2009.

 
Steven Gerrard
Paying the penalty: Steven Gerrard tucks away a controversial penalty to bring Liverpool back onto level terms with Birmingham City at Anfield Photo: PA

Once again, Steven Gerrard rescued Rafael Benítez. Once again, Liverpool’s defensive frailties were exposed in a helter-skelter match high on octane and carnage. Once again, the curse of diving scarred a Premier League game.

Liverpool deserved to take a point at least from this mad encounter, particularly as they had in Glen Johnson comfortably the best player on the pitch, but the manner in which Rafael Benítez’s side secured the draw with 20 minutes remaining was highly distasteful.

David Ngog had zigzagged into the Birmingham City area, his pace soon carrying him along the goal-line. Lee Carsley slid in, seeking to nick the ball off Ngog’s feet. The Frenchman’s response was shameful, throwing himself to the floor and conning the referee, Peter Walton, into believing Carsley had made contact. It was a dive and that’s a fact.

Sadly, Liverpool’s reputation for sportsmanship took a dent. The days when Robbie Fowler was earning a Fifa award for insisting that Arsenal’s David Seaman has not fouled him seem very distant.

At the very least, Rafael Benítez should summon Ngog up the stairs at Melwood and into his office, delivering a brief lecture on why this was conduct unbecoming to a Liverpool employee.

Rafael Benítez had the good grace to appear embarrassed by Ngog’s grand larceny afterwards but the damage was done. Gerrard had swept in the spot-kick, making it 2-2, saving his manager’s blushes but Birmingham were understandably incensed.

Alex McLeish’s men defended so stoutly, particularly their centre-halves Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, that to concede a goal in this contentious fashion was particularly galling.

At least, Birmingham returned south with a point, with signs that Christian Benítez and Cameron Jerome, who both struck fine goals, can gel into a strike-force of substance and the memory of how much they scared Liverpool, how the Kop screamed itself hoarse on the nerviest of occasions.

McLeish can also take pride that his positive tactics, 4-4-2, had so worried his Liverpool counterpart.

Rafael Benítez appears trapped in a lengthening nightmare, now stretching to only one victory in nine, and presented with a lengthening injury-list, now including Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun, who both tore hamstrings and are out for a fortnight.

For all the relief over recovering to snatch a point, this should be remembered as another dark night for Liverpool. Their back-line, missing the suspended Jamie Carragher, was badly caught out by quick counter-attacks.

Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger are good centre-halves but failed to react quickly enough to the sudden breaks of Christian Benítez and Cameron Jerome.

Even before Ngog’s tumble, this had been a night of extraordinary sights, not least Birmingham’s owner Carson Yeung appearing to have dressed for a Yogi Bear tribute evening with a fur-coat the size of the Yosemite. It was certainly cold enough to send a chill through spectators, particularly Liverpool fans in an astonishing first half.

The Kop could have been forgiven a shiver of fear as the teams lined up. Famous names could be numbered among the absentees. Gerrard was sitting on the bench, protecting his adductor strain for 44 minutes until Riera ripped his left hamstring. Fernando Torres was missing entirely, his groin problem ruling him out.

No wonder this was a nervy night for Liverpool. Keeping faith in their 4-2-3-1 system, they were initially too sharp for Birmingham.

Glen Johnson, all pace and purpose going forward, clipped the ball to the near post. Hart saved well from Ngog, then Dirk Kuyt but had no chance when Ngog drove in Riera’s cross.

A welcome sense of calm descended on Anfield. Surely this would not be a rollercoaster ride now? But nothing is straightforward with Liverpool at the moment. Unpredictability rules. Benítez was duly frustrated by Benítez.

As well worked as his goal was, it could, really should have been prevented.

When James McFadden lifted the ball to the far post, Roger Johnson’s team-mates cleverly engineered some space for him, allowing him a free header back in. Dann nodded on and there was Christian Benítez, reacting quicker than Pepe Reina, to head in.

Liverpool sought to rally, Javier Mascherano storming forward and demanding a first-class tip-over save from Hart. Yet Liverpool’s defence continued to live dangerously. When Skrtel was caught forward, Benítez rounded Reina but shot into the crowd. Lucky escape.

Riera then shredded his sinews stretching to flick the ball goalwards, bringing Gerrard into the game, eliciting a huge roar from the Kop.

Here, surely, was Red Adair, the man to help Liverpool reclaim the lead. Yet it was Birmingham who stunned Anfield.

As thoughts were turning to the break, Skrtel lofted a rather aimless long ball forward which Dann headed back into the hosts’ half. Jerome seized possession, and powered forward, holding off Mascherano and letting fly from 30 yards, his shot dipping in over a startled Reina.

Birmingham’s impassioned fans loved it, taunting Rafa Benítez with chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning’’. No chance. Liverpool’s board remain supportive. So does the Kop.

Benítez’s players certainly fought for him. Gerrard headed Johnson’s superb cross against the post before getting that controversial penalty chance.

 
 
Fernando Torres - Rory Smith on Liverpool

GAME AT A GLANCE

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