Liverpool 2 - Blues 2

Last updated : 29 November 2003 By Richard Barker
A year ago to the day, on a day that shook the world, Blues ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at Bristol Rugby Club’s Memorial Ground against Bristol Rovers in the First Round of the Worthington Cup. A year on, and a League trip to Liverpool fully highlighted just how far the club has come under Steve Bruce.

Bruce’s plans were dealt a major blow prior to the kick-off, with Aliou Cisse failing to shake off a knock picked up whilst on African Nations Qualifing duty with Senegal.

Liverpool themselves had two Senegalese internationals in action against Blues – the impressive El Hadji Diouf and substitute Salif Diao. Both were fully rested and fit for the evening’s proceedings because Liverpool are Liverpool, and felt that they had no need to send their players for Senegal’s game. No wonder the likes of Steve Bruce and Graeme Souness have begun to question ‘Double Standards’.

Blues started the game looking a shadow of the team that had been so impressive against Leeds United 10 days previous. The midfield simply weren’t able to compete with lightweight Bryan Hughes acting as Cisse’s replacement in the only change to the team. Blues continued to surrender possession to the likes of Steven Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann, who began to pull the strings in the middle of the park.

Blues slowly got themselves into the contest, winning a series of corners, one of which was reminiscent of the one which led to Paul Devlin’s goal against Leeds. Again, Devlin hit the ball first time as it travelled across his body. Unfortunately Devlin’s strike troubled the guy sat halfway up the Kop more than Jerzy Dudek on this occasion.

Just as Blues were beginning to believe that they possibly could compete, they were dealt a hammer blow by the trusty right foot of Danny Murphy. Bryan Hughes made a clumsy challenge on Diouf on the left hand corner of his own penalty area, and former Crewe man Murphy stepped up to curl a sweet effort up and over the wall and beyond the despairing dive of Nico Vaesen.

Liverpool became more emphatic in their atacking as they went in search of their second, and Blues were lucky to reach the interval just a goal behind, as Vaesen twice saved well from the wasteful Michael Owen, and John Arne Riise also went close.

However, the half time whistle came, and Blues hadn’t been disgraced, which was just about all that the travelling fans had hoped for.

Things got from bad to worse for Blues, however, just 4 minutes into the second half. A sweeping Liverpool move after a slip by Robbie Savage led to Diouf running at the heart of the Blues defence with pace, before slipping in the unrushing Steven Gerrard who fired low past Vaesen in front of the Kop to double the home side’s advantage.

Rather than kill Blues off, this seemed to stir the visitors, who seemed to relax and improve significantly on their otherwise lacklustre performance. Backed superbly – yet again – by the travelling fans, who refused to shut up, Blues played their best football of the night.

They got some reward on the hour mark when Stern John turned Liverpool’s weak link, Djimi Traore, and pulled the ball across to Clinton Morrison who fired into the roof of the net from a few yards out. Whilst it looked a simple finish, it was refreshing to see a striker in such a danger zone, where perhaps some of Morrison’s predescessors may have been admiring John’s pull back from afar.

Suddenly it was game on, and both teams searched for the game’s next goal which would prove crucial. Michael Owen continued to waste chance after chance, whist Hughes wasted two good opportunities for Blues, capping off another poor display from the midfield man everyone fancied to shine in the top flight.

Bruce threw caution to the wind with a triple substitution, introducing Geoff Horsfield, Stan Lazaridis and Darren Carter for Hughes, John and Damien Johnson. It was to prove to be inspired. In the fourth and final minute of injury time, Blues won a throw in down the Liverpool right hand side. Savage turned to the referee and enquired as to how long remained, with the referee indicating that this was the last chance of the game. Savage turned and encouraged Martin Grainger to get on with it, and Grainger’s throw in found Horsfield, who held off the challenge of the defender well, before laying the ball back to fellow substitute Lazaridis, who crossed superbly for Morrison to rise unmarked and glance the ball beyond Dudek into the far corner. Cue ecstatic scenes from the visiting fans, players and bench.

Liverpool barely had time to kick off, with just three more touches ensuing following Morrison’s strike. It was a magnificent result for Blues, who would have viewed the game as one which could possibly be ‘written off’ as a defeat. Following the disappointment across Stanley Park at Everton just a fortnight before, this more than made up for it. Though other teams that Blues would consider ‘rivals’ in the bottom half of the table won, few had games as tough as Liverpool at Anfield (Bolton Wanderers excepted). It was also a delight to see Morrison show the kind of instinct in front of goal that Blues have been searching for for years.

The first five games of the season have been far from easy, and to come out with 5 points after games at Liverpool and Arsenal, plus Leeds United at home, is very respectable. Blues are now also unbeaten in 3 games after draws either side of Stanley Park, and the victory against Leeds.

Bring on the Villa…

Vaesen - Some excellent one-on-one stops, especially against Owen.
Kenna – Disappointing.
Grainger – Solid.
Purse – Excellent, again.
Cunnigham – Once again, magnificent, despite being barely noticeable.
Devlin – Drifted in and out of the game.
Hughes – Very poor.
Savage – Quiet for an hour, but superb once Blues got back into it. A driving force in the comeback.
Johnson, D – A little bit lost on the left.
John – Impressive again.
Morrison – Quietly effective, but two great stirkes – like a proper striker.
Horsfield – Used strength and power well.
Carter – Competitive.
Lazaridis – Quiet but for the cross for the second – what more can you ask