Johnson Skrtel Agger Insua
Benayoun Kuyt Riera
Gerrard 71’ (pen)
The beach ball season rolls on. That’s seven league games without a win against Birmingham.
And both sides will feel cheated. With the amount of possession and chances, it’s two more points dropped by Liverpool. In front thanks to yet another set piece goal conceded by Liverpool and a wonderful second, Birmingham will rue Ngog’s dive for glory, which rescued said point.
After a quarter of the game, it looked to be just what was needed. Liverpool were ahead after patiently carving open Birmingham. Ngog scored a wonderful left-footed volley from Riera’s cross after Hart miraculously kept out two previous efforts. The home side were on top, especially down the right, as the beating Glen Johnson was giving Liam Ridgewell would see him jailed in 37 states. Didn’t last. Couldn’t last. Not this season.
It started when Liverpool conceded what was probably the dumbest equalizer of the season, which is saying something. Lucas gave up an insanely soft free kick, holding on a goal kick. McFadden lofted it into the box, and Birmingham won two headers (Roger Johnson at the back post over Glen and Ridgewell over Skrtel) before Chucho pounced from about a yard out. This is a short team, missing its most important defender, but come on.
Once again, Liverpool were knocked off-stride by conceding. But they still should have retaken the lead with a plethora of chances around the 32nd minute. First, Hart barely tipped over a Mascherano shot from distance on the break. When Birmingham were unable to fully clear the subsequent corner, they were under siege before an open Ngog miskicked and Lucas’s tame effort was cleared off the line by two players. Finally, Skrtel blasted a volley over from the top of the box, giving Birmingham a reprieve Liverpool would dearly regret.
After that, we were back to constant pressure, no end product, before Cameron Jerome notched the best goal he’ll ever score. And Birmingham had the best chance before that, on the break, only to see Reina thankfully come out to push Chucho too wide for a shot on target. Riera and Benayoun switched flanks to little effect, Birmingham blocked a smattering of half-chances, and then Riera pulled up injured, clutching the hamstring that previously kept him out. Surprisingly, Gerrard came on. Surely, Superman would change the game. Well, the game sure changed.
Less than two minutes later, Scott Dann headed out of defense just looking to clear his lines. Jerome collected, held off Mascherano, and unleashed a dipping shot from over 35 yards. Reina, marginally off his line (as he should be in that situation), had no chance. Sums up this season. Liverpool had 75% of the possession and Birmingham had two goals from three shots.
One up and unable to believe their luck, Birmingham were even happier to park the bus in the second half. Had luck been with Liverpool, Kuyt would have won a penalty in the 51st when Ridgewell clipped his ankle in the act of shooting. Of course, if luck had been with Liverpool at all this season, they wouldn’t have been in this situation.
Naturally, you’ll counter with “you make your own luck.” Which is exactly what Ngog did. More and more frustration led to sloppier and sloppier play until the 63rd, when Gerrard caromed a header off the post. From there, Liverpool found another gear and turned up the pressure before Ngog dove his way to an equalizer six minutes later.
Let’s get it out of the way now. We’re all against diving. Diving is bad for the sport. I’m sure more than a few British pundits will mention Ngog’s from France. At this point, I’d push my own mother down a flight of stairs for a Liverpool win, and she’s just recovering from a broken ankle. So I’m not going to complain if Ngog goes down when Carsley lunges in. Ngog and Carsley had some handbags – understandable on Carsley’s part – and both saw yellow before Gerrard sent Hart the wrong way.
That was the point where Liverpool would find the breakthrough. That was the point where Liverpool would turn the season around, get the winner, and go into the international break deeply relieved, only a point behind fourth. Ha. At least they didn’t concede. Again.
Liverpool found chances harder and harder to come by with 10, then 11 men packed in Birmingham’s box. The home side saw all of the ball, and Birmingham were all hands on deck, but the breakthrough wasn’t coming. Continuing the luck with injuries, Benayoun pulled up with a hamstring injury in the 78th (for those counting at home, that’s two attackers lost to hamstring injuries today), with Babel coming on, before Aquilani made his home debut for Lucas in the 83rd.
Unable to write the dream script, I thought Aquilani actually slowed down play too much. Before anyone gets carried away, I’m not blaming him for anything, and I’m thrilled to see him healthy. But with Benayoun and Lucas out, Liverpool resorted to crosses and hoofs from the middle, and Birmingham’s defenders had more than enough to keep that out, even with Liverpool throwing every man forward.
For the next two weeks, I’ll be reduced to repeating ‘at least it’s a point’ in an effort to keep sane, fully aware that Liverpool needed a dive to draw against the 15th placed side. That’s normally, and obviously, not good enough – even against a bogey team like Brum with injuries as they are. But this hasn’t been a “normal” season for some time now. The team’s holding on by their fingernails.
At least it’s a point. At least it's a point. Sigh.