08 November 2006

Liverpool 1-0 Birmingham

No matter the scoreline, the main news of the match is the injury to Momo Sissoko. A tackle by Nafti (who could have been given a straight red for his challenge on Zenden earlier) left Momo lying on the ground for over 5 minutes, and he left strapped to a stretcher with his arm strapped to his chest. According to the team, he has a dislocated shoulder, and it will depend on the extent of the ligament damage as to how long he’ll be out.

Other than the injury, the first half was fairly uneventful until Agger broke the deadlock during the extended injury time at the end of the half, hammering home after a scramble from a corner. Birmingham did have a couple of chances in the earlier on, with a nice save from Dudek keeping the game at 0-0, and Liverpool was fairly lackluster. A 0-0 scoreline at the half would have been fair to either team, but Liverpool was able to take advantage of an opportunity.

While the first half was mostly disappointing, there are three things that were quite encouraging about the late goal. It was Pennant’s corner that led to the goal, which is reassuring because of Jermaine’s iffy form so far this season. It still wasn’t his best game, he still only showed flashes of what’s he’s capable of, but he’s making strides. His delivery on corners has been one of his better attributes, and to contribute to a goal against your old team has to be a lift.

It’s also good to see Liverpool score from a corner, and it seems that the team is making better use of deadball situations, which is necessary to get the needed improvement in the goal totals.

Finally, it was fitting Agger got the goal. He was easily the best player in the first half; along with Paletta and a great save by Dudek, he was a big reason that Birmingham was held scoreless. Again he shows the power he has in his shot. It wasn’t West Ham, but it was a good strike, especially for a defender. If he continues to improve his defending to go along with his passing, ability to bring the ball upfield, and ability to pop up with a goal now and then, he’ll more than justify the £5.8m Rafa paid for him.

The second half started as quietly as the first half, until Gonzalez’s excellent run led to a penalty after being brought down by Jaidi. Surprisingly, Bellamy stepped up to take it. I would have expected that Fowler, who’s been on penalty duty when he’s playing, would’ve taken it, but at this stage of his career, when Craig demands to take it, Robbie will step aside I reckon. Much like Crouch against Portsmouth last year, Bellamy tried too hard to break a goal drought, and had his penalty easily saved. I hope the fans stay behind him, and get him through this stretch as they did with Crouchy last year, but Craig wasn’t good today. Ran smartly and well, and worked hard, but utterly off in front of goal. He’ll find his feet, but he’s not looking likely to break up the Kuyt/Crouch pairing.

Kuyt came on for Fowler in the 72nd minute. He wasn’t able to add much, as Liverpool didn’t offer much. The win was pretty much assured by Dudek, who had a couple of good saves in the last 20 minutes. It was nice to see Jerzy play well in his first start of the season, especially considering his past inconsistency. I don’t enjoy these nail biters, where Liverpool fails to find a second goal and ends up under pressure to finish the game, but for some reason, it never felt as if Liverpool would let one in.

Maybe it’s because Dudek, Agger, and Paletta all had excellent games. But I suspect it might be because I care far less about the win than I do about the loss of Sissoko. I sincerely hope his absence doesn’t affect the progress the team has made over the past couple of weeks. Not only is Momo essential to the team with his energy and knack for breaking up play, the upcoming Arsenal game is crying out for his presence. He will be sincerely missed on Sunday, more so than he would be in most other games. Zenden played better in the center today than he had all season, looking more confident, tackling better, and smarter going forward. Hopefully, he’ll be able to step in and partly fill the void left by the injury, but I’ll be far happier when Momo returns.

5th round draw takes place Saturday before the Premiership games.

Liverpool: Dudek; Peltier, Agger, Paletta, Warnock; Pennant, Sissoko (Alonso 26’), Zenden, Gonzalez; Fowler (Kuyt 72’), Bellamy (Guthrie 88’)

Goals: Agger 45+5’

MOM: Dudek (could have been Agger or Zenden as well)

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