Timely encouragement for 10-man Liverpool

Blackburn Rovers 2-3 Liverpool
Premier League; 10th April 2012

Match Report by Craig Rimmer

Fans and media alike often relish the chance to pinpoint the pivotal moments in a club’s season, the turning point in a team’s fortunes, the catalyst for imminent success or failure. With Liverpool looking a team who’s confidence was shot and with their recent form verging on embarrassing, it is no surprise that many were quick to reach similar conclusions; following a dramatic, if at times comical, victory in the face of adversity against relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers.

With a huge FA Cup semi-final, and a potentially definitive game in Liverpool’s season, just four days away; under any other circumstances, it would have been understandable for attentions to have been distracted away from a midweek encounter with Blackburn with little at stake in terms of the Premier League.

Kenny Dalglish’s team selection hinted as much, with six changes from the side which drew against Aston Villa and both Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing given the night off altogether. But, with times so desperate at Anfield, Dalglish could ill-afford to be so dismissive in his pre-judgement of this game’s significance.

15 months ago Roy Hodgson arrived at the same venue, also days ahead of a big cup tie. The result was the critical below for the previous managerial regime; an insipid 3-1 defeat proving the final nail in the coffin for Hodgson. Whilst the implications were never likely to be as severe for Kenny Dalglish, a similar failure would have been the latest in a growing list and would have only provided more ammunition for Dalglish’s current detractors.

Fortunately for Liverpool, Blackburn’s current plight is a more desperate one than their own. Following a poor start to the season, an improvement in form had recently threatened to lift Rovers clear of relegation trouble. Only for the visit of Liverpool to result in a fourth consecutive defeat for the hosts and refocus attentions on their much-maligned manager and owners.

Though, Liverpool appear either incapable or unwilling to do things the easy way. Two early goals from Maxi Rodriguez had put Liverpool comfortably in command of the match within 16 minutes. Only for Alexander Doni to be dismissed for a certain foul on Yakubu. Stand-in, Brad Jones, saved the resulting spot-kick with his first involvement. But, a 10-man Liverpool were up against it and, once an unmarked Yakubu had reduced the arrears before half-time, Jones was majorly at fault for the concession of a second penalty from which Blackburn equalised. Yet, despite their disadvantage, the Reds held their own. Enter Andy Carroll, to head past Paul Robinson in injury-time and win the game for Liverpool.

With goals such a valuable but all too rare commodity at Anfield these days, it was perhaps of little surprise that two players, each of whom have seen little action for varying reasons over at past couple of months, combined for the Reds opening goal.

Martin Skrtel’s excellently executed long pass from inside his own penalty area released Craig Bellamy – who had been afforded acres by the Blackburn defence. Bellamy raced down the right wing and played the ball across the face of goal, where Maxi, unsurprisingly, was on hand once again to score the opening goal from close range.

How Maxi has been consistently overlooked all season continues to baffle and this performance seemed to provide more questions than answers in that regard. The experienced Argentine provides a reliable source of goals from midfield, as well as intelligence and creativity in the final third. Two factors which Liverpool have undoubtedly lacked this campaign.

And Maxi was at it again moments later to double the lead. Jonjo Shelvey won the ball in midfield to set up the chance. Robinson denied Bellamy’s initial shot but, once Carroll’s follow up had been blocked, the ball came to Maxi who slotted into the net from an angle for his sixth goal of the season.

Maxi’s second appeared to have quelled any expectations of a Blackburn onslaught as they sought 3 points which were, on the face of things, more important to them and their own efforts to avoid relegation.

However, a terribly misplaced back-pass from Jon Flanagan – who had a brief evening to forget – gave Rovers a route back into the game from the penalty spot and saw the end of Doni’s night, as well as his Wembley dreams.

Flanagan had clearly struggled to find the pace of the game early on and could perhaps have been sent off himself for a second bookable offence. The youngster than gifted the ball to Blackburn’s main threat, Yakubu. Doni had to make the challenge but proceeded to bring the Nigerian down in the box. A certain penalty and with it a red card for the visibly distraught Brazilian ‘keeper.

Flanagan was dragged off by Dalglish to make room for the unlikely entrance of sub-‘keeper, Jones. The Australian is now inline to start against Everton and he made the perfect start by saving Yakubu’s, admittedly poor, penalty kick.

Despite their numerical advantage, Steve Kean’s side rarely threatened Liverpool. But Yakubu received a gift to make up for his penalty mishap before the break. Rovers top scorer was given the freedom of the six-yard box to head past Jones from a right-wing cross.

Liverpool had chances of their own, most notably when Carroll diverted a diving header narrowly wide of the goal when he should have hit the target from Glen Johnson’s cross. Yet, Blackburn found themselves level as the game took its latest comical twist.

The second penalty again resulted from a pass back to the goalkeeper. Jones hit a routine clearance against an oncoming Yakubu. He could have made amends by tipping the ball over the crossbar under pressure from Yakubu but instead attempted to palm the ball down and bundled the striker to the ground as they tussled for the ball.

The referee rightful only reached for a yellow card, as the ball was heading away from goal and Sebastian Coates was covering – amazingly one of ten cards shown in a match which hardly warranted such caution. Yakubu sent his penalty kick straight down the middle of the goal this time.

At that point the momentum was with the Ewood Park side, despite there inability to genuinely take advantage of the situation, and Liverpool look capable of contorting a defeat from the makings of a comfortable victory for the second away game in succession.

Dalglish introduced Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique to sure up his defence. However, it was the Reds who began to take advantage of gaps in the Blackburn defence as the game entered its concluding stages. And, when the home side could only partially clear a Bellamy corner-kick, Coates played the ball back into the danger area, Agger headed on and Carroll rose to head the winner past Robinson. Trigger an outburst of relief and delight amongst the sizable travelling support behind the goal.

Liverpool were in desperate need of a win from which to recover some of their fraught confidence ahead of this weekend’s Wembley showdown with Everton. Will this hard-fought victory prove to be the much needed catalyst for victory? Only time will tell.

Man of the Match: Jordan Henderson

Maxi Rodriguez was excellent when it was 11v11 but Henderson gets the vote after performing admirably under the circumstances, having been asked to fill in at right-back. Perhaps he was not a midfielder after all…

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