Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 1 Blackburn

Even the return of captain Steven Gerrard after a two-month absence failed to lift Liverpool out of their current Anfield malaise as the Barlcays Premier League's bottom club Blackburn left with a point they barely deserved.

The England international, sidelined since October with an ankle problem, played the final 21 minutes but could not inspire a change in fortunes.

Kenny Dalglish's side, although unbeaten at home this season, have now drawn six and won three and been held five times in the last six outings at Anfield.

And had it not been for Maxi Rodriguez's 11th goal in his last 12 starts, the result could have been more embarrassing after Charlie Adam had put through his own net on the stroke of half-time.

A familiar pattern of failing to take chances emerged very early on but the difference here, throughout the whole side, was the lack of spark and crispness which the Reds have usually had.

Luis Suarez's second-minute free-kick which sailed just over set the tone before Adam sliced an ambitious volley from outside the area which gave Mark Bunn, deputizing for the injured Paul Robinson, a much easier save than he could have anticipated.

There followed two efforts from Suarez, one into the side-netting from Glen Johnson's pass, and the other missing the target completely with a left-footed shot from a similar position on the right of the penalty area.

In recent months opposition goalkeepers have made a habit of saving their best performances for Anfield and Bunn's point-blank block from Andy Carroll, starting for the first time in four matches, after Downing had kept in Jose Enrique's deep cross had a familiar look to it.

Carroll had a goal ruled out on the half-hour as Suarez was offside and the assistant's flag rescued Bunn from conceding a penalty when he brought down Rodriguez, although it was inactive Suarez and not the Argentinian who had got ahead of the Rovers defence.

Blackburn's attacking was sporadic at best and when they did get a chance to test the meanest defence in the Barclays Premier League they wasted it as Ayegbeni Yakubu's cross from a quickly-taken corner was well over-hit.

In the end they needed a helping hand as, totally against the run of play, Adam diverted Morten Gamst Pedersen's inswinging corner past his own goalkeeper just seconds before half-time.

It capped a disappointing few days for the Scotland international, who also put through his own net against Rovers for Blackpool last season, as he missed a penalty in Wednesday's goalless draw at Wigan.

It took Liverpool eight minutes to equalize.

Downing's cross was cleared only as far as Martin Skrtel who hooked the ball back to the far post where Rodriguez headed in from close range.

The goal gave the Reds the spark they needed and, with Bunn wasting time at every opportunity, Suarez headed wide Downing's corner from a spot very close to where his team-mate had equalized.

A Carroll overhead kick was cleared by Grant Hanley while another Rodriguez far-post header, this time back across the six-yard area was crying out for a final touch with no Liverpool player anywhere near.

Gerrard finally got his long-awaited return to action in the 69th minute when he replaced Adam and ran straight on to curl in a free-kick which was headed over by Rodriguez.

Suarez then headed over Johnson's cross before the England defender was relieved to see David Dunn stab wide after needlessly giving away possession in midfield.

The action intensified as Carroll headed wide Enrique's cross, Rodriguez made way for Craig Bellamy to come on against his former club and Downing rolled a left-footed shot too close to Bunn having been played in by Gerrard.

Liverpool twice thought they had stolen the points in the closing moments, Carroll drawing a fine save from Bunn with a close-range volley and 17-year-old Adam Henley, on his first senior start, clearing off the line after Daniel Agger's header from the subsequent corner.

Such problems cannot be allowed to continue for Kenny Dalglish, who must surely have to address the issue of a lack of goals in the coming transfer window.

Blackburn's players celebrated a hard-earned point at the final whistle but their difficulties - they remain bottom of the table - will probably take more fixing.

Downing's Performance Against Blackburn Draws Mixed Reaction From LFC Fans

Of all Liverpool players, Stewart Downing was perhaps the most influential in Monday's draw with Blackburn Rovers. After the game, LFC supporters had plenty to say about the winger's performance.

To start, please don't mistake "influential" for a glowing review. It's more of a way of saying he was key to the outcome of the game. Downing saw so much of the ball in the first half, one could almost forget that Liverpool was playing with attackers on the left side.

It may have been by design, as Downing was deployed on the right wing against rookie left back Adam Henley. The 17-year-old American-born Welsh fullback was making his first-ever start for in the Premier League.

Downing never hesitated to attempt to dribble past him. He repeatedly attacked his inexperienced opponent, and used his skills to create space to deliver crosses into the box.
This is where LFC fans were divided. For as many times Downing served crosses into the Rovers' penalty area, it only lead to a scoring chance on few occasions. In short, fans wanted to see a better end product.

Downing also failed to convert two chances to win the game in final 10 minutes. In the 84th minute, Steve Gerrard sent him in on goal with a well-weighted pass. Downing cut it onto his favored left foot, but his far-post shot lacked the power to beat goalkeeper Mark Bunn, who dove to save it.

Three minutes later, Craig Bellamy served a dangerous ball into the area from the left side. It was too high for Andy Carroll to head it, but it was perfect for Downing. He rose and headed it well, bouncing it off the ground toward the far post, but Bunn heroically turned it away.

Downing has yet to score 19 games (18 in the Premier League) into his LFC career. He also has not registered an assist. Some Liverpool fans are happy with his contributions so far. Others are frustrated with the England international.

Steve Kean Proud Of Players For Holding Liverpool

Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean has expressed his pride at his players’ resilience in holding Liverpool to a 1-1 draw in their Boxing Day clash.

The visitors held on to condemn the Reds to their seventh draw of the season and their sixth at Anfield as Kenny Dalglish’s men failed to push on after Maxi Rodriguez’s equalizer.

The Rovers coach – who had seen his team go 1-0 up on the stroke of half-time thanks to a Charlie Adam own goal – was thankful for the team’s luck on occasions but highlighted the players’ discipline in defence as well.

“We were disciplined in defence and created quite a few chances on the break," Kean told BBC Sport. “In the second half, sometimes you need great saves and lucky breaks. I am proud of the lads. I think we showed that if we keep our discipline we can come to places like this and dig out results.”

Rovers' effort and graft in defense was evident from the start and Kean admitted he reveled in denying Liverpool all three points.

“I enjoyed it,” the Rovers boss told reporters after the game. “We were a little bit disappointed in the way that we started the second half but that side in the first half had defensive organization spot on. Credit to the players we worked on that a lot, to get a platform where we can win the ball and then start off our counter attacks.”

Rovers’ goalkeeper Mark Bunn made a string of saves throughout the match to keep the scores level and it was his leap to deny Andy Carroll in the fifth minute of stoppage time that denied Liverpool a late winner.

“He’s made two great saves and I’m delighted for him because he’s been taking part in the [League] Cup but he’s been very patient,” Kean added. “Paul Robinson has picked up a calf tear and Bunny makes saves, he’s agile and he gets about his box and it’s a super save at the end. Full credit to the lads; we dug in and managed to get something from the game.

Dalglish Cannot Hide Frustration

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish could not hide his disappointment after a draw with rock-bottom Blackburn Rovers, but was pleased to have Steven Gerrard back on the field.

The Reds were held to a sixth Premier League draw of the season at Anfield after Charlie Adam's own goal was cancelled out by Maxi Rodriguez on Boxing Day.

Liverpool pummelled the Blackburn goal, but Mark Bunn was one of the heroes as, not for the first time in the current campaign, a visiting goalkeeper was man of the match.

It has been a familiar tale for Dalglish and if Liverpool had taken wins from the 12 points they have dropped at Anfield, they would be sat comfortably in the top four.

And the Scot told Sky Sports after the match against Blackburn: "It is the same story for us. It gets repetitive hearing it; it gets repetitive saying it for us.

"There is not a great deal more they (the players) can do other than have a bit of belief in themselves when they get in there."

Bunn denied Andy Carroll, who was making a rare start, twice with two reflex saves, while 17-year-old Blackburn debutant Adam Henley cleared a Daniel Agger effort off the line with the final kick of the match.

"We did have something to show for it, we got a point, which is not what we deserved and is not what our intent was, either," Dalglish said.

"But they (Blackburn) came to go away with something and they got it. They fought hard for the cause.

"We have got to look after what we can do for ourselves."

Captain Gerrard was back after a two-month absence, having been sidelined since October with an ankle problem, and he played the final 21 minutes.

"He needs to get some time on the pitch," said Dalglish.

"With him and Bellers (Craig Bellamy) coming on, it was to try and do something a little bit different to see if we could get something.

"From his (Gerrard's) first free-kick, we went close with a header. It is smashing to have him back."

Dalglish Unhappy With Cards

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish believes Craig Bellamy is being unfairly treated by referees.

The Welshman has a feisty reputation and his manager fears that may be working against the forward after four bookings in as many matches.

Dalglish has been disappointed by the yellow cards Bellamy has received in the recent games against Fulham and Wigan, and the Scot hopes a pattern is not developing.

The Liverpool manager said: "It's all well and good having rules, but rules should be the same for everyone, not split up for different people.

"Would you ever ask Bellamy to tone down his feistiness? No. He is experienced enough. But he has been booked four times [in his last four games] and hasn't deserved any of them.

"Does that force you to alter how you might select him in the future? You would hate to believe there is an agenda against him. If Craig needs to play, he will play. We have just got to take that chance.

"[Wigan defender] Antolin Alcaraz gave five free-kicks away last Wednesday and there was no yellow card. If [Alcaraz] is going to get five chances, does that mean everyone else is? We just need a wee bit of clarity."

Bellamy was booked after a coming together with Clint Dempsey in Liverpool's defeat at Fulham, where Jay Spearing was also sent off, and Dalglish was confused by the decision.

"Clint Dempsey put his head in Craig's face," said the Scot. "When we asked the referee why the wee man was booked he said, 'Craig knows', but he didn't know.

"There was another against Queens Park Rangers when Joey Barton approached him. I don't know why he has been booked but I haven't seen anything in any of them."

Steven Gerrard Needs Time, Says Kenny Dalglish

Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish welcomed captain Steven Gerrard's return from injury but warned it would take time for the skipper to regain full fitness.

Gerrard's 20-minute cameo was a rare bright spot for the Reds in a 1-1 home draw with bottom club Blackburn.

"It's fantastic that he's got back and he looks a lot stronger and a lot fitter now than he was in years gone by I think," said Dalglish.

"But he needs some time on the pitch now to get him back to full fitness."

Gerrard was making his first appearance since 22 October after undergoing treatment on an infected right ankle.

The injury came only one month after he had returned from a six-month absence following groin surgery.

After coming on for Charlie Adam with the score at 1-1, Gerrard created a chance for Maxi Rodriguez with his first touch - a curling free-kick which the Argentine headed over the bar.

But even the inspirational skipper could not prevent Liverpool drawing at home for the sixth time in nine league games this season.

"The difficulty was who to take off because it wasn't as if we were playing poorly," added Dalglish.

"Usually if there is a bit of a struggle you can see you have two or three options but there wasn't anyone who deserved to come off.

"But we had to do something to try to win the game. I made two substitutions - Steven and Craig Bellamy to try to win it - and with a bit of good fortune we probably would have."

Carroll Can Take His Chance

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish expects £35million man Andy Carroll to take his opportunity with 'two hands' over the festive period.

The former Newcastle striker, who moved to Anfield last January, has started just eight Premier League games this season and has scored only two goals.

A traditionally busy fixture-list over Christmas and the New Year means Carroll could be offered chances to start as Dalglish rotates his squad.

"Training well never does anybody any harm whatsoever, and if you are going to get an opportunity then the better you train, the more capable you are of taking that opportunity," said Dalglish in the Liverpool Daily Post.

"As we have said before, everybody that is in this group of players has trained fantastically well and if they have been given an opportunity they have always taken it and if the big yin (one) gets an opportunity I am sure he will take it with two hands."
A lack of fitness meant Carroll did not make his Liverpool debut until a 15-minute run out against Manchester United in March.

Injury problems continued to trouble the 22-year-old in the second half of last season and Dalglish believes the record-breaking signing is as a result still at the same stage as summer signings in settling at Anfield.

The Reds boss said: "I think what we have to remember also is, seven new players, it's their first season and you would include Andy in that as well.

"He came in last season with an injury and never featured until the Manchester United game, when he came on as a sub. So his career really only started in August there.

"We have got to get know them and they have got to get to know us and I think it is a fantastic credit to all of them, the new ones and the ones that were here before, that they have gelled so quickly.

"That includes everybody who has come in. It will take a bit of time for everyone to be acquainted with each other but we are happy with the progress we have made so far."

Mancini Angry At Liverpool's Extra 48 hours Before Key Game

Roberto Mancini has criticized the Premier League for scheduling the next round of fixtures in a way that means Liverpool will have two days' extra rest before their away game against Manchester City a week on Tuesday.

Liverpool are at home against Newcastle United on Friday night and City face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday afternoon, giving Kenny Dalglish's players close to an extra 48 hours to recover for the match at the Etihad Stadium. Mancini, who watched with frustration here as his team failed to score for the first time in domestic football this season, said that he was "not happy" with the Premier League for giving Liverpool a clear advantage going into their game against City and one that could impact on the title race.

"I am disappointed only because we play 1 January and 3 January and Liverpool play 30 December and then 3 January against us. I think that at this moment this is not correct," the Manchester City manager said. "I'm not happy with this situation because two days [of rest] in this moment when we play every three days is not correct. Sometimes the fixtures can [be] better because to play one game after four days and for us after 48 hours can make a difference."

Mancini's post-match mood will not have been helped by the sight of Manchester United hauling themselves level on points with City at the top. He expects Sir Alex Ferguson's side to be three points clear after their home match against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. "I think United will win [their] next game and it's more difficult for us against Sunderland away and then within 48 hours again," he said. "But I'm confident we can do a good job by the end."

Although David Silva squandered a wonderful chance and Mario Balotelli and Sergio Ag├╝ero both threatened, City struggled to break down a West Bromwich Albion side who were tactically superb and thoroughly deserved a point. Albion might have come away with an even better result but Shane Long headed wide in the second half and Jerome Thomas hit a post.

"We don't keep many clean sheets, so it's good to do it against a side of City's calibre," said Hodgson, who believes that United have started to turn the screw in the title race.

"In some ways the riches are on the blue side of Manchester but to some extent the quality and talent are on the red side. City could virtually put out two Premier League sides and United have been unlucky with injuries. But the important thing is United beat Fulham 5-0 away in the week and have put five past Wigan yesterday. They're flying."