Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Benayoun Gerrard Riera
Remember all those late goals Liverpool scored last season? Yeah, I miss those.
I’d say it’s a return to the bad old days of 0-0 draws, but those were last season’s bad days. As depressing as it is to write, at least it’s not another slack, stupid away loss, which was eminently possible. Still, with the best chance of the game – an Ngog shot ricocheted off the crossbar – it again feels like two points dropped. And even though it’s still December, we’re watching the race for fourth (sigh), which Spurs and Villa are now two points ahead in.
A sloppy and subdued opening 10 minutes saw Liverpool grow into an ugly game little by little, but Blackburn’s backline, marshaled by Samba and Nelsen, was excellent, leading to a forgettable first half. A goal never felt like coming and neither keeper had much to do. Liverpool were restricted to two Gerrard shots deflected behind for corners while Blackburn “tested” Reina once, a Samba flick-on straight to the Spaniard.
Disappointingly, but not completely surprisingly, the home side had more of the ball as Liverpool looked to contain and counter. As hoped, Kuyt started up top with Benayoun, Gerrard, and Riera supporting, but the Dutchman was often isolated, unable to bring the wingers into play any better than Ngog had. Probably worse; Kuyt was no better up front than on the flank. Robinson appeared confident after Wednesday’s heroics, but Liverpool couldn’t test him with a shot on goal in the first half.
The main problem was erratic passing, a recurring culprit this season. I can’t single any player out because all were guilty. Benayoun and Riera, unable to supplement the strike force with Torres out, were probably the most liable, but both central midfielders weren’t far behind. Benitez, proactive for once, didn’t hesitate to bring Ngog on for Riera seven minutes into a much more open second half.
Liverpool were better in the second frame, with more possession and improved by the substitutions, but Blackburn were just as threatening. Liverpool had that aforementioned best chance, but Blackburn had about as many opportunities. More possession for Liverpool meant more of an open game because of Liverpool’s inept passing and lack of movement. Giveaways lead to breakaways, and I reckon it’s a small consolation Liverpool didn’t give away a stupid goal.
The second-half tone was set with Blackburn’s 47th minute chance, as Insua played Di Santo onside, putting the striker one-on-one with Reina, but the youngster lingered in surprise, allowing Carragher to get back. Ngog’s entrance started the shift in Liverpool’s favor, but the team couldn’t turn momentum into goals.
Gerrard provided Liverpool’s first shot on target in the 55th – partly summing up the afternoon – which Robinson smothered at the second attempt with Kuyt waiting for a potential rebound. Two minutes later, Liverpool had its first soft penalty shout when Gerrard was brought down in the box after a scramble following Lucas’ nice run to the byline, but Atkinson played on and Kuyt’s follow-up was blocked.
Five minutes later, Blackburn demonstrated the potential to break Liverpool hearts on the counter as Lucas’ slip presented Blackburn possession in Liverpool's half. Di Santo got on the end of the resulting throughball, but Reina easily claimed his shot from a narrow angle.
Upping the pressure finally led to the solitary chance that should have won the game. Johnson, one of Liverpool’s few dangerous players, beat two to the byline and centered. Blackburn’s captain Nelsen, easily man of the match along with Samba, was able to get a toe to the ball, deflecting it just enough so Ngog could only shin his effort off the bar. Such is this season.
El Zhar came on for Benayoun soon after, looking to run at the defense, but Blackburn was clearly content with a point and pushed deeper to prevent a winner. The final 15 minutes saw a lot of Liverpool possession and a couple of chances, but more giveaways and more frightening Blackburn counters. McCarthy shot wide from the top of the box on one of those counters in the 77th before Robinson nearly let Liverpool in three minutes later, sending his clearance off Mascherano and failing to recover, but the Argentinean’s attempted center was cut out.
The second, and stronger, penalty shout came in the 82nd, when Johnson’s mishit lefty cross found Gerrard at the backpost, and Ngog claimed a push when attempting to get on the end of the captain’s knockdown, but Atkinson again waved away appeals. And other than speculative efforts from Agger and Kuyt, that was the extent of Liverpool’s chances. So much for undying Liverpool’s late winners.
More in line with this season, Blackburn almost caught Liverpool out twice in injury time. The first happened when Liverpool failed to chase down Hoillett’s awful shot. Blackburn prevented the throw-in, and Kalinic turned Agger in the box, only to shoot over. The second came after another sloppy short corner, with Reina to thank for smartly charging out of his box to close down Kalinic after Mascherano’s tackle somehow released the striker.
I’m obviously of two minds about this, since this season’s proven life can be much worse than a point on the road. But it was an insipid, toothless performance against a bottom-half side, no matter how resilient said bottom-half side was. The ball bounces slightly differently and Ngog scores in the 71st. Shit, if the ball bounces differently, Liverpool lucks into a goal from Robinson’s misplaced clearance; it happened against Newcastle, off Pennant, a few seasons ago.
The hoped-for tactical switch didn’t work as hoped. Liverpool were clearly better after Ngog came on, even if Blackburn sitting deeper was partly responsible. It goes without saying that Liverpool misses Torres, whose creativity would have unlocked something. Gerrard also isn’t fully fit, even if he was more influential than against Everton.
The dead rubber match against Fiorentina, which matters about as much to me as the Carling Cup (probably less), before an unexplainably crucial (where have I heard that before?) match against Arsenal next Sunday.