After The Match 


Birmingham-Liverpool 1-1 (0-0)            4.4.10                     PL
Goals: Gerrard (47)                   Ridgewell (56)
Team: Reina, Insua, Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Lucas, Gerrard, Rodriguez, Benayoun, Kuyt, Torres
Subs: Ngog (Torres 65), Benayoun (Babel 71), Aquilani (Kuyt 81)
Not used: Cavalieri, Agger, Degen, Mascherano
Yellow: Lucas (41)                      Fahey (52), Gardner (74)
Red: None
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire)
Attendance: 27,909
Shots on target: 3-3
Shots off target: 6-10
Blocked shots: 0-7
Fouls conceded: 15-9
Corners: 5-4
Offsides: 1-0
Possession: 41.9-58.1
Yellow: 2-1
HEADLINES "It was a pity,
it was a great performance from the team."

Rafael Benitez
0604: Reds urged to keep fighting
0604: Gerrard: Liverpool are underdogs
0604: Torres treatment a big clue to how
          Benitez sees his Liverpool FC future

0504: Benayoun baffled by Reds decline
0504: Miracles now needed
          for Champions League spot

0404: Rafa explains Torres call           
0404: Reds hopes hit by battling Blues 

Reds urged to keep fighting

By Ben Collins - Sky Sports

Rafa Benitez has urged his Liverpool players to fight until the very end despite facing a losing battle in their bid to secure UEFA Champions League football.

The Reds have been regulars in Europe's top club competition, with Benitez leading them to the 2005 title, but they could miss out next season.

Tottenham's 2-1 defeat at Sunderland on Saturday allowed Manchester City to regain fourth place with a 6-1 drubbing of Burnley, and Liverpool lost further ground as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Birmingham on Sunday.

Benitez's men are now four points adrift of City and three behind Spurs despite having played a game more than their Champions League rivals.

But City and Spurs seem to have a tougher run-in and Benitez believes they could slip up if the five-time winners can pile on pressure.

"The players were disappointed after Birmingham because it was a good performance and we had some chances at the end," he told the club's official website.

"But I told them, 'There's still five games so we need to keep going'.

"If we play in the same way then we'll at least win our games, then we'll see what happens.

"They (City) have some difficult games, so we just have to win our fixtures.

"Football is so special. You think, 'we'll win there and maybe lose there', but then everything changes.

"We just have to think about getting three points against Fulham on Sunday and then see what happens. We have to keep the belief."

Liverpool also have to host West Ham and Chelsea in the league, while they have away games at Burnley and Hull.

And Benfica are also due at Anfield in the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday, with Benitez's men looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg.

"The Europa League now is a very, very important trophy for us and we have to win against Benfica," added the Liverpool manager.

Gerrard: Liverpool are underdogs


Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard admits his side are underdogs in the race to claim a top-four spot following Sunday's 1-1 draw at Birmingham.

The Reds missed the chance to close the gap on Manchester City and Tottenham on Sunday after being held to a disappointing point at St Andrew's.

Gerrard believes Liverpool must win their five remaining league games if they are to have any chance of securing fourth spot.

"It will be difficult. We have the experience and we are hoping that will be vital in the end," said Gerrard. "But I think it will go down to the wire.

"To give ourselves a better chance, we had to take maximum points against Birmingham.

"It's going to be really hard now. But I think what you notice is the race for fourth place seems to change from week to week."

Gerrard has also called on his team-mates to stop talking a good game and deliver on the pitch.

"You have to look at the teams above us but they are the favourites and we are the underdogs at the moment.

"But we will keep fighting all the way to the end.

"That's what we said with six games to go. It's all right saying we will be fine if we go and win our last five games.

"But we have to go on the pitch and win them rather than talk about it."

Torres treatment a big clue to how
Benitez sees his Liverpool FC future

Comment by Mark Lawrenson - Liverpool Daily Post

I wish I could answer the questions as to why Fernando Torres was taken off at Birmingham on Sunday – but I for one have given up trying to guess.

Preserving players early in the season is one thing – but doing it in April just doesn’t make sense.

No wonder Steven Gerrard was scratching his head.

I hate harking back to the old days because that’s exactly what they are – old. But if Rushie had been subbed after 65 minutes of a game we needed to win back in the 1980s there would have been a mutiny.

And Torres is the modern day Ian Rush – the one player who you need on the pitch when you are chasing a winning goal.

Yes, he might have been having an off day but looking at the way Liverpool pressed late on, he would have only needed to stand there and swing his leg at the ball to have an impact.

He would surely have buried the couple of chances David Ngog had when he came on to replace him.

But the most baffling thing about the decision to haul him off was, if you really need to wrap him in cotton wool and make sure he doesn’t do any long term damage, why didn’t that happen in Portugal on Thursday night?

There were only eight minutes left when Torres made way for David Ngog that night and by the time he came off he had been kicked from pillar to post.

Taking him off would have been justified on that occasion because he was getting no protection from the referee and the Benfica defenders were having a field day.

That would have been the time to give Torres the safety of the bench.

As it is, the 2-1 defeat Liverpool suffered still, for me, gives them a 60/40 chance of qualifying at Anfield, as long as they don’t concede an away goal.

One thing is for sure, after missing half an hour of action at St Andrew’s, Torres should be flying!

But the other thing I really don’t get about the whole tiredness argument is, why not send Ngog on for someone else and give Torres some help? Ease the burden on him a bit.

If you have someone who can do the running and occupy defenders, then Torres can just stand around and be as worn out as he likes, all he needs to be there for is to add a finishing touch.

That’s all you need in such a finely-balanced game and I’ve lost count of the times a decision by Benitez has jeopardised his side having the best chance of winning a game.

When your own captain is looking at the number board in utter disbelief, you know you’ve got problems.

Gerrard was playing really well, had scored a great goal and he knows that when he is in the mood he and Torres can destroy a team in an instant.

So what conclusions are we supposed to draw from all this? Is it that Benitez wants to go all out to win the Europa League rather than push for fourth place? A fourth place that he has already ‘guaranteed’?

After failing to deliver on that, success in Europe is an absolute must if you’re going to make sacrifices elsewhere for it.

Of course, if we do win the trophy then great, happy days. But how are we going to attract top quality players to the club for next year if we are not in the Champions League?

Or maybe Rafa knows that come the summer that won’t be his problem – and if he does go he will at least have gone out with some silverware.

Benayoun baffled
by Reds decline


Yossi Benayoun has revealed the disappointment and frustration in the Liverpool squad at failing to match last season's performance levels.

The midfielder admits the Reds hopes of qualifying for the Champions League are now out of their own hands after being held to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham on Sunday.

They are now four points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City - and have played a game more - with just five matches remaining.

Benayoun accepts Liverpool tossed away a golden opportunity to keep the pressure on City and Tottenham with the result at St Andrew's but insists they will keep battling away.

The former West Ham player said: "It is hard to explain. There is a big difference between last season. Performances were much better then and we had more confidence.

"This season we started badly in the very first game. Yes, there was a moment when we thought we were coming back but then we disappointed ourselves with a few bad games.

"It is very difficult when you are not close to the top and you do not feel as if you have the chance to win something. It is disappointing but we will keep going.

"We are fighting for fourth place. I know it is important but it just isn't the same. We have made it harder but all we can do is play the last five games and see what happens.

"We are now depending on other results and this makes it more difficult. It was a big chance at Birmingham. They are a good team but we had to win, especially after Tottenham lost at Sunderland.

"We have to keep believing but it is very disappointing. All we can do now is think about the next game. We know we need to win and we have to play much better."

Striker Fernando Torres looked unhappy at being substituted midway through the second half shortly after Liam Ridgewell's goal had cancelled out Reds skipper Steven Gerrard's opener.

But Benayoun said: "Substitutions are part of the game and it is the job of the manager to do what he thinks is best for the team.

"We changed and tried to create but we missed three good chances. We put lots of pressure on in the last 15-20 minutes and some days, you score those chances and you end up winning 3-1 or 4-1.

"But when you are unlucky and hit a defender, or there is a great save by the 'keeper, it's part of the game."

Gerrard concedes Liverpool are now underdogs to secure fourth spot but believes the battle will continue right to the conclusion of the season in mid-May.

He said: "To give ourselves a better chance, we had to take maximum points at Birmingham.

"It's going to be really difficult now. But I think what you notice is the race for fourth place seems to change from week to week.

"You have to look at the teams above us. They're the favourites and we're the underdogs at the moment. But we'll keep fighting all the way to the end.

"People say we are capable of winning our last five games but that's what we said with six games to go.

"It's all right saying 'we'll be all right if we go and win our last five games.' We have to go out on to the pitch and win them rather than talk about it.

"It will be difficult but we have the experience and we're hoping that will be vital in the end but I think it'll go down to the wire."

Gerrard took advantage of a mis-hit shot from Glen Johnson falling into his path to open the scoring a minute into the second half.

But the Liverpool defence went missing nine minute later in failing to pick up the run to the far post of Ridgewell, who converted a cross from James McFadden.

Miracles now needed
for Champions League spot

Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Daily Post

It's the time of year when miracles happen but Liverpool now require one of biblical proportions.

What was already an uphill battle to secure the final Champions League spot, looks almost impossible today.

Yesterday’s desperately frustrating stalemate at St Andrew’s delivered a hammer blow to hopes of clambering into the top four.

With Rafael Benitez’s side four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City having played a game more, only the most optimistic of Kopites can honestly believe the club will be dining at Europe’s top table next season.

This was a golden opportunity to turn up the heat on their top four rivals but Liverpool blew it.

Benitez’s search for a cure to his side’s travel sickness goes on after their weaknesses at both ends of the pitch were laid bare in the Midlands.

Having taken the lead early in the second half courtesy of a fine strike from skipper Steven Gerrard, they proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot as some woeful defending gifted Liam Ridgewell a soft equaliser.

A spirited response in the closing stages should have brought a winner for the visitors but, infuriatingly, a glut of chances were passed up.

The best of them fell to substitute David Ngog but he lacked the composure to make Birmingham pay.

The fact that the young Frenchman was on the pitch was a major talking point after he replaced Fernando Torres with 25 minutes to go.

Torres may have been flagging but he looked less than impressed by Benitez’s decision to take him off. And the striker’s mood will have darkened still further on seeing his replacement waste an array of opportunities.

Even a shattered Torres would surely have netted at least one of the glorious openings Ngog spurned.

The lack of quality cover for the 20-goal top scorer has undoubtedly been a major contributing factor in Liverpool’s struggles this season.

Rather than boost his strikeforce last summer Benitez opted to splash the lion’s share of his transfer kitty on an Italian midfielder who has spent most of his time on Merseyside lying on the treatment table.

Alberto Aquilani’s sole contribution after coming off the bench late on yesterday was to inadvertently block Maxi Rodriguez’s goal bound shot. It was that kind of day.

Of course there is no disgrace walking away from St Andrew’s with a point. That’s all title contenders Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal picked up on their visit.

Alex McLeish’s Birmingham are on course for their highest league finish for 56 years and are unbeaten at home since September.

However, such is Liverpool’s current predicament that nothing less than victory was ever going to be acceptable. A draw felt like a defeat.

There could be no complaints about the commitment and in truth a point was scant consolation for their overall performance. But this was the latest in a long line of hard luck stories this season.

If Tottenham’s defeat at Sunderland 24 hours earlier had given Liverpool hope of claiming fourth place, then wins for Aston Villa and Manchester City provided a reminder that there was little margin for error.

Benitez had to go for broke and clearly concerned about the effects of the draining European clash with Benfica three days earlier the manager rung the changes.

Yossi Benayoun, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Rodriguez were all recalled with Javier Mascherano, Ryan Babel and Daniel Agger dropping to the bench.

The fact that Mascherano was deemed too tired for action was a big setback and his physical presence was sorely missed during a dour opening 45 minutes.

The first half hour was played at such a sedate pace that it had the feel of a meaningless end of season clash rather than a win or bust contest in the pursuit of Champions League football.

As has so often been the case on their travels this season Liverpool saw plenty of the ball but did precious little with it.

Only Spurs have a better home defensive record in the Premier League than Birmingham and Torres got no change out of reliable centre-backs Roger Johnson and former Kop season ticket holder Scott Dann.

Neither keeper was seriously troubled until 10 minutes before the break when Liverpool went agonisingly close to grabbing the lead.

Pepe Reina started a sweeping counter-attack with Dirk Kuyt and Benayoun combining to find Torres on the edge of the box. The Spaniard picked out the impressive Rodriguez whose shot rattled the bar.

That finally brought the game to life and Liverpool soon enjoyed a let-off of their own.

Reina made a hash of Cameron Jerome’s shot and then compounded the error by flapping at the ensuing corner from James McFadden. However, to the keeper’s relief Johnson’s header landed on the roof of the net.

Liverpool were in need of inspiration and Gerrard provided it just two minutes into the second half.

Glen Johnson’s mis-hit shot landed at the skipper’s feet and he cut inside Lee Bowyer before curling a shot inside Joe Hart’s far post.

It was a stunning strike and put Gerrard into double figures for the season. By his own high standards he has had a disappointing campaign but there were more signs yesterday he’s rediscovering his form.

That goal should have settled any nerves and given Liverpool the belief to go on and clinch victory.

But inside nine minutes they carelessly tossed away their precious advantage.

McFadden was allowed far too much space to turn and bend a cross to the far post where the unmarked Ridgewell bundled the ball home.

Glen Johnson was so far away from where he should have been Benitez needed to send out a search party to locate his right-back.

The Liverpool boss responded by taking off Torres and putting on Ngog, who got a hot reception from the home fans following his apparant dive to win a penalty in the 2-2 draw at Anfield back in November.

It was a gamble which didn’t pay off. The Frenchman’s every touch was booed and on his 50th appearance for the club he wilted under the pressure.

Ngog had only been on the pitch three minutes when Johnson found him out with a great cross but he nodded wide with Hart beaten.

Liverpool were still ruing that miss when Birmingham broke away and Bowyer scuffed wide with the net gaping.

With Babel and Aquilani replacing the ineffective Benayoun and Kuyt, the visitors’ attacking threat grew and in the final 20 minutes it was one-way traffic.

Ngog lashed another effort wastefully off target and when Rodriguez’s shot struck Aquilani on the back Benitez must have known it wasn’t going to be his day.

The chances kept on coming but Rodriguez and Babel both missed before at the death Gerrard’s pin-point 60-yard pass put Ngog clean through.

His first touch was perfect but the substitute scuffed tamely at Hart and the game was up.

Birmingham are the only team that Liverpool haven’t managed to beat in the Premier League under Benitez.

They haven’t managed it in eight attempts and this latest failure looks like being the most costly of all.

Rafa explains Torres call

Sky Sports

Rafa Benitez insists his decision to substitute Fernando Torres at Birmingham in Sunday's draw was simply an attempt to freshen up his flagging Liverpool side.

With the game evenly poised at 1-1 with 25 minutes left to play the Spaniard surprised everyone in St Andrews with his decision to withdraw Torres in favour of David Ngog.

Torres has been in fine form since his return from injury and while Benitez will point to an exerting Europa League tie on Thursday that saw Liverpool play for an hour with 10 men, his front-man looked perplexed by the decision.

Benitez thought his star striker looked tired and was in no mood to make apologies for his call post-match. Of the impression Ngog played well in his cameo off the bench, Benitez insists there is no reason for Torres to feel aggrieved.

"He was tired, he was really tired," Benitez told Sky Sports. "We needed fresh legs so I went with Ngog.

"It was a really good substitution because he was working very hard and had a few chances, so perhaps the movement and energy he had made him fresher.

"Sometimes maybe the player wants to play 90 minutes but we needed the energy and I think Ngog was really good."

The stalemate leaves Liverpool four points off Manchester City in fourth, and three behind Tottenham in fifth, with both having played a game less than Benitez's side.

Benitez concedes his team have it all to do if they are to secure UEFA Champions League football for next season but is adamant there is still plenty to play for between now and the end of the season.

"Tottenham and Man City are in a better position but there are still many games to play. We have to win our games and then see where we are," he continued.

"We were talking about winning the six games or maybe drawing one. Now we have drawn the one so we need to win the other five.

"It was a pity, it was a great performance from the team. We made a lot of chances in the first half and then in the second half. We had to win."

Reds hopes hit
by battling Blues


Liverpool's Champions League hopes were hit on Sunday as Birmingham came from behind to earn
a 1-1 draw in the Premier League at St Andrew's.

Steven Gerrard had put Liverpool ahead a minute into the second half with a fine curling effort but Liam Ridgewell levelled matters nine minutes later to leave the Reds four points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City having played a game more.

The draw leaves Rafa Benitez still searching for a first Premier League victory over Birmingham - after eight attempts spanning his six seasons at Anfield.

Blues again showed the resilience which has been their trademark in preserving a seven-month unbeaten home record and Sunday's stalemate means they have now drawn at St Andrews with every one of the current top six this season.

Benitez made three changes from the side beaten at Benfica in the Europa League on Thursday with Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Yossi Benayoun and Maxi Rodriguez replacing Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel respectively.

Blues boss Alex McLeish fielded an unchanged side as he kept faith with the players who had held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw.

The first half-chance fell to the in-form Fernando Torres after he was picked out by a pass from Maxi Rodriguez but his first touch was surprisingly poor and took him away from goal.

Gerrard was operating mainly in a deeper role but he ventured forward to find the overlapping Rodriguez in space only for his shot to be blocked by Roger Johnson.

Torres tried his luck from 30 yards out but his curler was high and wide of Hart's goal.

Then after 35 minutes Joe Hart produced a superb reflex save to prevent Rodriguez from giving the Reds the lead.

Torres was the creator with a menacing dipping cross and Rodriguez's powerful first-time shot from 10 yards out was tipped onto the crossbar by the on-loan Manchester City keeper.

The game started to come to life and Jose Reina beat out a shot from Cameron Jerome at the expense of a corner, although the striker appeared to be offside.

Then Reina failed to deal with a deep centre from James McFadden and Johnson's header at the far post was only just off target.

Lucas became the first player to be booked after 38 minutes for a shirt pull at McFadden.

Gerrard needed only a minute of the second half to break the deadlock although there was an element of fortune about the goal.

Glen Johnson's attempted shot was well off target but dropped nicely into the path of Gerrard on the left side of the Birmingham box.

The England player had time to cut inside before unleashing a fierce curling shot which flew into the corner of the net.

Keith Fahey became the first Birmingham player to be yellow-carded after 51 minutes for a challenge on Lucas but Gerrard's free-kick flew well wide.

Birmingham responded in positive fashion to going behind, with full-backs Stephen Carr and Liam Ridgewell getting forward at every opportunity.

And after 56 minutes Ridgewell brought the home side back on level terms.

Former Everton player McFadden was the creator with some neat trickery on the right flank before floating over a teasing cross which left Ridgewell with the simplest of tasks from close range.

Benitez made his first change after 65 minutes with David N'Gog replacing Torres, who looked far from happy at being taken off.

N'Gog was greeted with a crescendo of boos from the Blues fans who clearld had not forgotten the controversial penalty he won in the 2-2 draw at Anfield earlier in the season.

N'Gog had a great chance to restore Liverpool's lead but he headed wide when well placed from Johnson's cross.

Then Lee Bowyer was guilty of an even more glaring miss. Ridgewell's cross found him unmarked six yards out but he poked the ball wide with the goal at his mercy.

N'Gog squandered another golden chance, drilling his shot wide from 12 yards after Dirk Kuyt had dispossessed Bowyer to set up the opportunity.

Substitute Alberto Aquilani inadvertently blocked a close-range shot from Rodriguez as the visitors searched for a late winner.

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