After The Match 


Liverpool-Birmingham 2-2 (1-2)       9.11.09                         PL
Goals: Ngog (13), Gerrard (71 pen)        Benitez (26), Jerome (45)
Team: Reina, Johnson, Insua, Skrtel, Agger, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Benayoun, Riera, Ngog
Subs: Gerrard (Riera 45), Babel (Benayoun 77), Aquilani (Lucas 82)
Not used: Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Spearing, Darby
Yellow: Ngog (70)              McFadden (64), Carsley (70)
Red: None
Referee: Peter Walton
Attendance: 42,560
Shots on target: 7-2
Shots off target: 18-3
Blocked shots: 10-0
Fouls conceded: 8-9
Corners: 11-1
Offsides: 2-3
Possession: 77.9-22.1
Yellow: 1-2

to stick together
and keep fighting."
Glenn Johnson
1011: Reds boss Rafa calls for realism
1011: Johnson: 'Awful' Reds must fight
1011: Benitez fears hamstring tears for duo
1011: Reds lack a KO punch
1011: International break comes
          at right time for Rafa Benitez

0911: McLeish fumes at Ngog
0911: Rafa: We should have won
0911: Blues hold Reds at Anfield

Reds boss Rafa calls for realism


Rafa Benitez has for the first time played down Liverpool's title hopes and asked for "realism" as the club fight to end a poor run of results.

Liverpool are 11 points behind leaders Chelsea following Monday night's 2-2 home draw with Birmingham.

Benitez's side have won only one of their last nine matches in all competitions, and just one of their last five in the Premier League.

It has left them with a mountain to climb if they believe they can catch Chelsea, when the more realistic target now is surely to retain their place in the top four and achieve Champions League qualification for next season.

Benitez said after the draw with the Midlanders: "We have to be realistic and think what our target is now. For me it is just the next game, the next point to see whether we can climb a little higher in the table.

"Then you never know what can happen. We did win six games in a row, if we did that again everything would be different.

"The main thing now is to get players fit, and see who we have available for the next game after the international break.

"We will then wait for some months to pass and see whether we can win some games in succession. That is all I am looking at now."

Benitez has always talked of the big clubs losing more matches this season, which would allow Liverpool to keep in contact despite their nightmare form.

The Spaniard added: "People keep discussing our bad run, but previously we won six on the trot and we have beaten Manchester United.

"It is a question of keeping going. I would be really worried if we were not playing well and not winning. But I can see that we are beginning to play better, it is a question of luck now.

"Maybe people think that I am angry about all this. But when I see the players working so hard, trying to change our situation, there is nothing more to say to them, they are doing all they can.

"This is the only way to change our situation. To keep working hard and play well, and I believe we did play well against Birmingham."

Benitez has more injury problems involving Yossi Benayoun, Daniel Agger and Albert Riera, while Fernando Torres could be out for a further three weeks, which would rule him out against Manchester City and Everton in the league and the Champions League tie away to Debrecen.

He continued: "We are talking of two or three weeks out now for Fernando. The hamstrings for Riera and Benayoun could be the same and Agger has more problems with his back.

"He has worked hard in training, and we felt he would be okay for the match. But you could see that he was not right.

"The plus points are that Glen Johnson was back and playing well, while Alberto Aquilani finally got a chance to play at Anfield.

"Steven Gerrard looked okay after his groin problems, physically he was fine. We will have to see how the injury reacts but he brought us quality and passion, and I hope that we can now manage his problems better."

Birmingham boss Alex McLeish had sympathy for Benitez if not David Ngog's part in the controversial penalty equaliser, the French under-21 striker being accused of diving.

McLeish said: "Liverpool are missing key players, world-class people like Torres and Gerrard. Any team is affected when they lose their best players.

"There is not a lot of understanding in the game when you lose people like that, it is the football life managers are in and you have to accept that.

"But you must rise above the storm, I have been through the same and you have to bounce back.

"Benitez is a top manager with plenty of medals to his name. I am sure he will also bounce back."

Johnson: 'Awful' Reds must fight

BBC Sport Online

Liverpool defender Glen Johnson admits that the Reds have to "stick together" if they are to end their alarming run of just one win in nine games.

"It sounds awful and it is awful for a club like Liverpool to have a run like that," he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"But this is football. Things like that happen. We're not going to sit there and feel sorry for ourselves. You have to stick together and keep fighting."

Liverpool are now 11 points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea.

But, after being 2-1 down at half-time, the controversial second-half Steven Gerrard penalty which won Rafa Benitez's team a point against Birmingham City at Anfield a point on Monday night did suggest the Reds' recent run of bad luck might have ended.

Prior to that, Birmingham had cancelled out David Ngog's early strike with their only two shots on target, the second of them a freakish 30-yard wonder strike from Cameron Jerome.

But, despite intense second-half Liverpool pressure, Blues hung on to stretch their great recent record at Anfield, where they have not lost now in four visits.

"We know the run of luck is against us at the minute," said Johnson. "Jerome has hit the strike of his life and the first goal could have been dealt with better.

"Obviously we want to be winning those games, but it wasn't meant to be.

"I felt like we'd done enough to get three points.

"We had chances and we dominated the game. The confidence was there with the boys and we were fighting for the cause."

Johnson, who started the move that led to Ngog's opener, made a successful return from the calf injury which had kept him out for three games, winning the man-of-the-match award.

"As everybody knows I like to get forward," he said. "We would have liked to have created another goal to win the game. But it wasn't to be.

"I was just pleased to get back out there and fight alongside the boys."

Benitez fears hamstring tears for duo

Football 365

Bad to worse for Liverpool? Apparently so because Rafa Benitez is fearing the worst for Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun after they were injured against Birmingham on Monday night.

According to the club's official website, Benitez 'fears both wingers tore their hamstrings' in the 2-2 draw.

"Riera had the same problem as before. The players are sometimes available but not 100 per cent ready. We thought he was okay but in the end you can see he wasn't," Benitez bemoaned.

"Yossi has the same problem as Riera. Some players are playing too many games in a row. They are working very hard and so you always have this risk. I think both will have tears."

As for Fernando Torres, who missed the match, there's no guarantee that will be fit for the Man City clash in two weeks either.

"Torres had no confidence and said he couldn't play, so we started the treatment yesterday," reported Benitez. "He has to work with the physios and try to improve and be ready. We are not talking about an operation at this moment, we're talking about treating him properly. I don't know if he will be ready for Man City. The only thing I can say is we're talking about two or three weeks working with the physios. We haven't got a deadline, we just need to see how he is every day."

The only bit of good news delivered by the Pool manager concerned Steven Gerrard. "I think he will be okay," said Benitez. "We have to check. There's small things but I think he'll be okay."

Reds lack a KO punch

Comment by Dominic King - Liverpool Echo

And so continues one of the most curious records in Rafa Benitez’s Anfield reign – but what else did you expect when Birmingham’s visit was switched to a Monday night?

While Liverpool’s manager has savoured many famous triumphs in the 202 Premier League matches he has taken charge of, and claimed all the biggest scalps, the only team he has not beaten are the Blues from England’s second city.

What’s more, bizarrely, Benitez has never tasted success in a game on the first day of the working week here; throw into the equation that Birmingham had a striker by the same name in their ranks and, perhaps, it was inevitable Liverpool’s misery would continue.

Quite how that happened will be causing Benitez much consternation today; dominant in possession, determined in their work, Liverpool could have won in a canter; instead they required all their inner strength – and a slice of luck – to haul themselves off the canvas

It’s easy to harp on about bad luck or blame poor results on the fact fate has dealt a fickle hand but you only needed to see the way Liverpool began this contest, passing and moving with confidence, the difference a clearing sick bay made.

Take Glen Johnson. Prevented from playing at Fulham or in Lyon due to a torn calf muscle, he showed precisely what had been missing on the right side of the field with a couple of energetic, skilful forays to put the Reds on the front foot.

His main job, of course, is to stop goals but Johnson has shown with great regularity since arriving here that he is just as effective at creating them, his searing pace, superb control and shuffling feet are becoming increasingly potent weapons.

Try as they might, Birmingham found it almost impossible to put the shackles on Johnson in the opening exchanges and it was no surprise he was involved heavily in the move which enabled the Reds to poke their noses in front.

A terrific change of pace and some smart close control enabled Johnson to create a yard of space before delivering a cross that David Ngog smashed towards goal but Joe Hart worked wonders to keep that effort out, as he did with Dirk Kuyt’s follow up.

Albert Riera, though, showed great composure to keep the move alive and picked out Ngog, who applied the emphatic finish a baying Kop demanded – the only surprise was it took Liverpool 13 minutes.

True, the goal was not celebrated as wildly as Ngog’s previous strike at that end of the ground but it was just as well received in light of the three results since the young Frenchman put Manchester United out of their misery on October 25.

Ngog, clearly, is not Fernando Torres but he is improving all the time, starting to give the impression he will one day be an effective operator at this exalted level.

As he wheeled away to celebrate his fourth goal of the campaign, the thought of Liverpool trailing at half-time was utterly ludicrous but that, incredibly, was the situation in which they found themselves.

People can point the finger at Benitez all they want but what can he do when his defenders make the kind of mistakes that would have a League Two manager tearing his hair out?

With Jamie Carragher sat in the stands serving a suspension, it was inevitable Birmingham would look to expose any aerial failings in Liverpool’s armour but the manner of their equaliser was absurd.

James McFadden simply hung a free-kick up to the back post, Roger Johnson was put under no pressure as he flicked on, nor was Scott Dann, and, inevitably given his surname, Christian Benitez did the rest.

That goal completely took the wind out of Liverpool’s sails but worse, incredibly, was to follow. Quite why Martin Skrtel felt the need to play a head high ball to Steven Gerrard in first half injury time only he will know, but his decision was given maximum punishment.

Admittedly, Cameron Jerome’s strike was quite spectacular, a dipping volley which flew past Pepe Reina.

Whatever Benitez said in the dressing room, however, worked the oracle as the intensity of the Reds’ movement was encouraging.

Ultimately, however, they could not find a killer instinct in the final third, a point proven by the fact Hart’s only saves of note in the second period were shots from distance by Lucas and Yossi Benayoun.

That the bleak scenario of a sixth Premier League defeat was avoided was thanks to referee Peter Walton adjudging Lee Carsley’s tackle on a Ngog to be illegal and pointing to the spot to give Liverpool a lifeline.

Whether they should have had the chance is open to debate as Ngog told Benitez no contact was made but Gerrard made no mistake from 12 yards yet it did not trigger the anticipated grandstand finish.

So frustrating. Three points were not just required to improve the position in the table – they were needed to ease everyone’s peace of mind and placate anxiety.

Instead we must hope those on international duty return unscathed and the injured few improve in time to face Manchester City. Fate, surely, can’t deal any more jokers – can it?

International break comes
at right time for Rafa Benitez

Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Echo

Rafa Benitez is no fan of international breaks but this one may have come at just the right time. The next 11 days provide an opportunity for the Liverpool boss to take stock away from the spotlight and plot his sides route out of an alarming slump.

A campaign already in serious danger of meltdown took another turn for the worse against Birmingham City.

The mist descended at Anfield last night but there was no hiding his sides deficiencies.

Benitez has ridden out many storms during his Anfield tenure but this is without doubt the fiercest.

The Spaniard needs to find solutions to a seemingly ever-growing list of problems.

Some of those weaknesses can be corrected by hard work on the training ground like his sides inability to make their dominance in games count and their glaring defensive frailties.

For others, Benitez will look to the Melwood medical team to weave some magic as he battles with the worst injury crisis of his managerial career.

Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera were the latest victims to head for the treatment table after pulling up lame with hamstring problems last night.

News that Daniel Agger aggravated a back problem and Fernando Torres was nowhere near fit enough to face Birmingham, dampened the sombre mood still further.

Viruses, injuries, beach balls and dodgy red cards Benitez must truly feel the fates have conspired against him in recent months.

The result is a miserable sequence of just one win in nine games.

Liverpool not only need a miracle to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League, but they now face a battle to play any part at all in next seasons competition.

Forget the title. With Chelsea now 11 points clear of the Reds, Carlo Ancelottis side have disappeared over the horizon.

After last seasons second placed finish all the talk was of Liverpool taking the next step this season, but a woeful lack of investment in the playing squad back in the summer has heavily contributed to ensuring that next step will be a backward one.

The injuries have laid bare the alarming lack of depth in Benitezs squad.

The target now is a top four finish and unlike in previous years that is no gimme with Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa having stepped up their assault on the established order and securing a spot at Europes top table.

Last nights contest just about summed up Liverpools season so far.

There wasnt an awful lot wrong but they were made to pay a heavy price for their errors.

There could be no questioning the character or commitment but too often quality was sadly lacking as they failed to make a remarkable 78% of possession count.

Infuriatingly, they were left desperately chasing a game they could have had wrapped up inside the opening half hour.

After young Frenchman David Ngog deservedly put the Reds in front early on with an emphatic volley it should have been the start of a procession.

But further chances were spurned and as has been the case far too often this season Liverpool shot themselves in the foot with another bout of schoolboy defending from a set-piece allowing Christian Benitez to pile the misery on his namesake.

Having to chop and change their backline has not helped Liverpool this season but there is no excuse for not even doing the basics right.

There was little that could be done about Cameron Jeromes stunning strike on the stroke of half-time.

It silenced a crowd who had been on their feet moments earlier when skipper Steven Gerrard made his return to action after four games out in place of Riera.

The response in the second half was emphatic. Glen Johnson terrorised Liam Ridgewell and added a spark, but too many of his team-mates appeared anxious and short on confidence with countless passes going astray and crosses overhit.

The equaliser arrived in controversial fashion after Ngog tumbled over Lee Carsleys legs and Gerrard slotted home from the spot.

But the skipper couldnt add to his list of famous Houdini impersonations as a winner proved elusive.

In the closing minutes Benitez paced around the technical area anxiously pointing at his watch in the direction of Peter Walton.

The clock is ticking on Liverpools season and every second counts before Manchester Citys visit a week on Saturday.

McLeish fumes at Ngog

Sky Sports

Birmingham manager Alex McLeish was left furious after Liverpool grabbed a point at Anfield.

David Ngog had given the home side an early lead, but Christian Benitez and then Cameron Jerome put Birmingham ahead at the break.

Then with 20 minutes left, Ngog went down under a Lee Carsley challenge - but replays confirmed that the Birmingham midfielder did not touch the French forward.

And McLeish was left fuming with Ngog's simulation.

"It is a shame for the game, he has conned the referee," McLeish said.

"Lee has gone in but he has not made contact with the player, Mr Walton is a great referee but he has got that wrong.

"I thought they huffed and puffed but I don't think they were going to score, if we hadn't had that I think we would have won.

"He could have hurdled him, he didn't have to go to ground.

"It is ludicrous, part of the game is evading the challenges - but he has got his team a penalty and they got a point, but unfortunately it cost us possibly two points."

Carlsey was also left fuming with Ngog, saying: "I was absolutely nowhere near him. It's a joke.

"I knew I didn't touch him and I said to the referee to book me or send me off, it would have made me feel better.

"I'm sure he (Ngog) has got a family, well if I went home having done that I'd be embarrassed.

"You're supposed to be teaching your kids an example and that is just an embarrassing case of cheating.

"But the lad's taken a chance and got his team a point so I'm sure they'll be patting him on the back."

McLeish, though, was full of praise for his side's display.

"It was a great performance, we have scored two cracking goals after Liverpool had taken the lead, not many teams take the lead at Anfield after Liverpool go in front," he said.

"They say it evens itself out but it evens itself out more tor the big teams.

"The players were brilliant tonight and the spirit in the dressing is great."

Rafa: We should have won

Football 365

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez insists his side should have beaten Birmingham.

The Reds grabbed a 2-2 draw with Birmingham, courtesy of a highly controversial penalty as David Ngog appeared to dive under Lee Carsley's challenge.

Earlier Ngog had volleyed Liverpool ahead, only for Christian Benitez and Cameron Jerome to put Birmingham ahead at the break.

Benitez did concede that the late penalty maybe should not have been given - but he insisted a point was the least that Liverpool deserved.

"I think it is difficult to explain [why we didn't win], we had some many chances, plenty of possession," he told ESPN.

"But in the end we are talking about the penalty - whether it was or not, maybe it wasn't, but we deserved to win as we had some many opportunities.

"I was talking to him and he said maybe it wasn't a penalty, but anyway I would say that with 74 per cent of possession in the first half and how many attempts it is unbelievable that we are talking about a draw in this game."

Benitez avoided questioning about whether Liverpool's title hopes were gone, with The Reds now sitting 11 points adrift of leaders Chelsea.

"We have to be ready for the next game, that is it," he stated.

"Playing as well as today and showing he character we did, you could see the belief of the players and that is the message. The message for everyone here is that we are working very hard and things will change."

Blues hold Reds at Anfield

Sky Sports

Liverpool dropped yet more Premier League points as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Birmingham City
at Anfield.

And it could have been so much worse for Rafa Benitez, whose side trailed 2-1 before captain Steven Gerrard - who started the match on the substitutes' bench - slotted home a penalty which was highly controversial.

David Ngog, who had given Liverpool an early lead, looked to have dived with Lee Carsley sliding in and making no contact - but referee Peter Walton awarded the spot-kick which allowed Gerrard to slot home.

Earlier Christian Benitez had headed The Blues level, before Cameron Jerome's stunning strike just before half-time gave Alex McLeish's side the lead.

Gerrard, though, stepped up to slot home - but a draw will still be of huge frustration to Benitez - who is still yet to beat Birmingham in the Premier League.

The point means Liverpool remain in seventh, but some 11 points adrift of leaders Chelsea.

No Torres
Fernando Torres did not even get a substitutes' role, the Spain striker now clearly being given a lengthy rest to recover from his groin problem.

Gerrard, with a similar if less severe injury, was named on the bench along with Alberto Aquilani.

Glen Johnson, Albert Riera and Martin Skrtel all returned from injury, with Jamie Carragher suspended.

Birmingham had Joe Hart back in goal while they were without Barry Ferguson, also suspended, so Teemu Tainio came into the side.

Liverpool went with the 20-year-old Ngog up front and Dirk Kuyt, captain for the night, in a central supporting role.

Of all Liverpool's young imports, Ngog has looked the most likely to make the breakthrough this season, and his balance and clever control were soon in evidence.

Hart saved one Ngog effort before the France Under-21 striker gave Liverpool a 13th-minute lead. Johnson surged down the right, cutting between two defenders before crossing for Ngog who saw his first effort blocked by Hart.

The ball flew to Kuyt only for Hart to again get his legs in the way, but when the rebound dropped for Ngog he made no mistake with a fierce a close-range volley into the roof of the net.

Tainio limped off two minutes later, former Everton midfielder Carsley coming on in his place.

Liverpool had been cruising up till now, but Birmingham struck back with an impressive set-piece, and once again Liverpool's susceptibility in the air was evident.

James McFadden fired a free-kick into the area and Roger Johnson headed back across goal where Scott Dann nodded on for Benitez to head past Jose Reina from close range.

Hart touched over a Javier Mascherano drive, and Daniel Agger saw a low shot following a corner kicked off the line by Carsley as Liverpool tried to hit back.

A minute from the break Riera, who had appeared to be on a solo bid to score from outside the box at almost every opportunity, suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury, and Gerrard was brought into the fray as a substitute.

Shock lead
His arrival was met with huge cheers from the Kop, but the home crowd was silenced within seconds as Birmingham took the lead.

Jerome shook off the attentions of Mascherano to lash a swerving 30-yard effort into the top corner.

The confidence Liverpool had shown in the first half hour evaporated and, with the crowd's anxiety growing, errors in possession increased.

Gerrard saw a low header hit Hart's left-hand post from Johnson's cross from the right as Liverpool at last produced some sustained pressure.

McFadden was booked for a foul on Johnson, the Scot being substituted soon after to be replaced by former Red Gregory Vignal.

Liverpool were then awarded the highly-contentious 71st-minute penalty. Ngog did well to get to the byline and went sprawling to the turf as Carsley came in with a sliding challenge, even though the Birmingham man's leg did not touch the Liverpool youngster.

Carsley and Ngog exchanged views and pushes, and referee Peter Walton booked both before Gerrard stepped up to drill home the spot kick.

Liverpool then lost Benayoun with a hamstring complaint, Ryan Babel coming on.

Gerrard fired over a cross for Ngog to hit wide at the near post before sending an 18-yarder just wide.

With nine minutes left Aquilani finally made his Anfield debut as a substitute for Lucas.

The visitors were forced to defend desperately in the final minutes and hung on valiantly for a point.

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Thor Zakariassen ©