They played with a freedom that belied their lowly league position. Whether that entitled them to a share of the spoils from a game in which Liverpool did almost all the attacking is a point that will be hotly debated on Merseyside, though this was not a match in which the home side were unlucky or denied by goalkeeping heroics, at least not until right at the end. Liverpool were quite pedestrian for much of the game, and for all their pressure did not do enough to deserve a win.
"The team performance wasn't faultless, but a lot of other sides would have been happy with it," Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, said. "We made more than enough chances to win but once again we didn't convert enough of them." Steve Kean was much the happier, though he would not go as far as to suggest he now prefers playing away from home. "It's all about getting your noses in front," the Blackburn manager said. "That's what we did here, and if we could do that at Ewood maybe the frustrated supporters would cheer us like they did at Anfield.
"We had a patched-up side with five players from last season's reserves' cup final, but you could still see the belief. That has always been there, and I just hope we can win the supporters over. We are running out of bodies though, particularly defenders, and we will be looking to bring in at least four established players in January."
Liverpool did not take to the field wearing T-shirts this time, though there were plenty in the crowd who had availed themselves of the Luis Suárez gesture garment over Christmas. There was such a lot going on around this game, with the Kop trilling through a new anthem to the Uruguay striker and the Blackburn supporters in the Anfield Road end laying off Kean for a change but making a most unseasonal suggestion about where Venky's could stick their chickens, it was easy to forget the actual football. Mostly because a lot of it was eminently forgettable.
Suárez had four shooting chances in the opening 20 minutes but missed the target on each occasion. Dalglish had brought Andy Carroll back into the starting lineup after the goalless draw at Wigan, but when he was presented with a chance after half an hour he shot straight at Mark Bunn from a couple of yards out. Suárez found the side-netting with Liverpool's best chance of the first half, after beating both Grant Hanley and Adam Henley twice over, but otherwise the first 45 minutes were dull and uneventful until Blackburn woke everyone up by snatching an opener on the stroke of the interval.
Content up to that point to hold their own in midfield without seriously threatening in attack, it always seemed likely that the visitors would look to free-kicks or set pieces to score, and when Daniel Agger rather clumsily conceded a corner under only token pressure from Yakubu Ayegbeni the accuracy of Morten Gamst Pedersen's delivery helped Rovers take full advantage. The corner was intended to pick out Mauro Formica's run to the near post, and almost did, though the Argentinian would have found it difficult to flick the ball past Pepe Reina from a narrow angle with his back to goal and was grateful to see that task performed by Charlie Adam's outstretched leg.
The midfielder's second own goal of the season at least guaranteed a livelier second half, and sure enough Liverpool came out and put the Kop end goal under siege. They still lacked a cutting edge, with neither Suárez nor Carroll able to accept a couple of half-chances, until sheer pressure caused Blackburn to buckle after eight minutes of backs-to-the-wall defending. When Stewart Downing's umpteenth cross was met by Chris Samba's umpteenth headed clearance, the ball was smartly volleyed back into the box by Martin Skrtel, and with Blackburn's central defenders not quite back in position Maxi Rodríguez was able to head home unopposed at the far post.
Downing was easily Liverpool's brightest attacker, consistently finding space on the right from which to cross, even if most of the crosses kept finding the heads of Samba or Hanley. As if Henley, making his first league start at left-back, was not finding life difficult enough against the England winger, he was lucky to get away with a trip on Suárez after the Uruguayan had cleverly taken a quick free-kick and raced to collect a return pass. After 69 minutes, Dalglish chose that moment to send on Steven Gerrard for his first game for two months, replacing Adam, who had been shaping to take the free-kick. The cheer when Gerrard was announced among the substitutes had been the loudest of the afternoon, and for a moment it appeared he might be about to announce his comeback with a winning goal in front of the Kop with his first touch of the ball, but he crossed instead of shooting from the free-kick and Rodríguez headed over.
Suárez also headed over before the end, Carroll put a free header inches wide from José Enrique's cross and Downing forced a save from Bunn, but even with Craig Bellamy added to the attacking mix Liverpool could not find a way through. In stoppage time Bunn, deputising for the injured Paul Robinson, got down to his right to save brilliantly from Carroll, and Agger saw a last-gasp header cleared off the line by Henley, but though Liverpool's late charge was impressive it was ultimately too late.
"There can't be many tougher places to make a full debut, but young Adam [Henley] did brilliantly," Kean said. "This is a great stage to play football, and I told all the lads just to have the courage to play. You don't want to leave Anfield with any regrets."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Sanjiva
Have something to tell us about this article?