Liverpool 2 Blues 2 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 10 November 2009 By Richard Barker

Blues lead 2-1 at half-time courtesy of Christian Benitez and Cameron Jerome, only for Steven Gerrard to equalise from twelve yards after the award of a controversial penalty by referee Peter Walton.

Alex McLeish continued with his 4-4-2 formation that had served him well lately, meaning that Benitez and Jerome continued up front, whilst Teemu Tainio came in for Barry Ferguson as the only change to the side that drew with Man City. Tainio didn't last long, however, before being replaced with Lee Carsley.

The game got underway after an impeccably observed minute's silence during which fans remembered those service men and women who had lost their lives fighting for their country.

It was always going to be tough for Blues and whilst they played 4-4-2, they played fairly deep and attempted to frustrate Liverpool. There weren't many openings early on, but Liverpool gradually got up a head of steam and began to test Blues.

It wasn't long before they took the lead in front of the Kop (Stephen Carr had "turned Liverpool around" at kick-off, which they hate). Joe Hart, who got the nod ahead of Maik Taylor (and no one should be surprised), made two stunning saves but got little help from his otherwise excellent defence who left David Ngog unmarked at the far post to volley in a looped cross.

With all the pre-match hype about Liverpool's "injury crisis" (about three players - name a club who doesn't have that?) and their current form, you kind of expected the floodgates to open. In their last home game they'd comprehensively outplayed Manchester United, and you thought, "here we go... we're next..."

It wasn't to be, however, as Blues were back on level terms not much later. James McFadden floated a lovely free-kick to the far post (about his only meaningful contribution - in the second half he became a disaster waiting to happen and was thankfully taken off) which Roger Johnson headed back across goal. Scott Dann nodded it towards goal, and just as the ball was making its way into Pepe Reina's hands, Benitez was on hand to glance it past him for his first goal in English football. Headline writers and commentators had probably been wetting themselves in excitement in advance of the game, hoping that one Benitez added to the other Benitez's woes. They got their wish.

As the first half drew to a conclusion, Liverpool were forced to replace the most one-footed player since Dele Adebola - Albert Riera - with Gerrard, recovered from whatever injury the press have been banging on for the past few months. With Gerrard now on, you almost sensed there was something special to come, even in the couple of minutes before half-time.

And there was.

From Cameron Jerome. I know, I know, but seriously, it happened. Jerome, who had done ok but appeared to shirk some of the physical battles, picked the ball up just inside the Liverpool half, used his pace and power to shake off his marker and then let fly from distance with a stunning strike that dipped over Reina and into the back of the net.

I woke up about five minutes later, thanks to the cold water being splashed on my face and the slaps to my cheeks. All I could mutter, in a slurred voice, was "Jerome... wonder goal... 35 yards..." and I still felt quite faint. I had it confirmed, however, that I had seen it right and it was in fact 2-1 to Blues at the break.

Liverpool quite clearly got a rocket at half-time and came out fired up and took the game to Blues who naturally sat back. Gerrard missed a header from some two yards out in the centre of the goal, and you kind of sensed then that it may be Blues' night. When Jerome is spanking in 35 yarders and Gerrard is missing from two yards out, you sort of realise that all is not well in the world.

However, Liverpool did get their equaliser when Lee Carsley was adjudged to have brought down Ngog in the area. The reaction from the Blues players told a story - that they thought Ngog had dived - but the penalty was taken and Gerrard scored.

Now, I always try and make a special effort to write these reports before having the benefit of press reaction and seeing replays and hearing pundits, etc. I want it to be my views, uninfluenced. That's difficult here, however, as on Radio Five on the way back there was a lot of discussion about Ngog's "dive", and I received about 14 texts saying that it was a blatant dive. So, was it a dive? It would seem so.

What I would say, however - which I said at the time - is that it was a silly challenge by Carsley anyway. To lunge in like that in the penalty area and fail to get the ball, well, you're almost asking for a penalty to be awarded against you. Ok, he didn't touch Ngog, but he lunged in regardless and was nowhere near the ball (that I could see). On that basis, it was a reckless challenge in the circumstances. That's what I feel.

As I say though, there's plenty of people who feel that it was a blatant piece of cheating after seeing it more times than I have. I think Carsley was reckless and stupid anyway, but even so, if Ngog cheated, that's very, very dirty. He's a dirty player. Someone should wash Ngog.

So, at 2-2 with 20 minutes to go, Liverpool really went for it. The closing stages felt longer than Michael Shields' prison sentence to Blues fans.
In chasing the game, Liverpool brought on three substitutes. They had a combined cost of £31m, and then one was Steven Gerrard who is probably worth that again. Blues brought on three substitutes themselves. One was a bald, ageing midfielder, one is a left back who QPR deemed not good enough over the summer and one was Gary McSheffrey, who earlier this year was sent back from a loan spell at QPR. If you want any indication of the difference in the quality at the respective managers' disposal, there you go. And Blues still hung on for their draw.

Liverpool dominated the game, there's no doubt about it, but Blues picked two strikers, had a go and got a result. Not many teams score twice at Anfield, and until recently, not many teams get results there. Blues did. They deserve credit for that. Of course they had to defend resolutely, heroically and, at times, desperately, but that's part of football just as much as a Steven Gerrard 40 yard pass or a Fernando Torres (or Cameron Jerome) wonder strike.

An excellent result for Blues, there's no doubt.

Still, it's only fair to take into account the effect that injuries and suspensions may have had on the outcome. Just imagine if Blues had had Barry Ferguson, Garry O'Connor and David Murphy available...