After The Match 


Blackburn-Liverpool 1-0 (1-0)           26.12.06                     PL
Goals: McCarthy (49)
Team: Reina, Finnan, Hyypia, Agger, Carragher, Riise, Gerrard, Gonzalez, Alonso, Crouch, Bellamy
Subs: Kuyt (Crouch 57), Aurelio (Gonzalez 64), Garcia (Bellamy 77)
Not used: Dudek, Pennant
Yellow: Agger (71), Alonso (72)     
Nonda, Pedersen (84), Emerton (86)
Red: None
Referee: R Styles
Attendance: 29,342
Shots on target: 3-9
Shots off target: 4-6
Possession: 47.8-52.2
Fouls conceded: 13-11
Corners: 3-5
Offsides: 4-2
Yellow: 3-2


HEADLINES "We cannot understand how we lost."
    Rafael Benitez

2712: Failure to pick holes brings on headache
2612: Rafa bemoans Reds finishing
2612: Hughes: A vital win


Failure to pick holes brings on headache

By Ian Doyle - Daily Post

There may well be 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, but it was Liverpool’s inability to find any past Brad Friedel that leaves Rafael Benitez nursing a familiar headache this morning.

Boxing Day became Groundhog Day for the Spaniard as the return of his team’s travel sickness ensured a miserable Christmas and a slide out of the Champions League qualification places.

No doubt many heads will be scratched as observers contemplate how Liverpool quite managed to lose a game they dominated for long periods, but the answer is very simple: they didn’t score.

And that has been the problem on far too many occasions for Benitez’s side this season, particularly away from home where their Premiership title challenge has long since floundered. Teams still only need to go ahead against Liverpool to win the game.

Liverpool visited Ewood Park on the back of four successive league wins, their best sequence of the season, and having netted nine goals in their previous three away games in all competitions. But after steamrollering the lesser lights of Wigan Athletic, Fulham, Charlton Athletic and Watford, the Anfield outfit failed at the first significant hurdle.

Indeed, the warning signs had been there at The Valley, when a wasteful Liverpool could easily have come unstuck.

Dirk Kuyt had stated after the weekend win over Watford the festive trips to Blackburn and Tottenham Hotspur would determine the strength of Liverpool’s winter revival. After yesterday’s defeat, the trip to White Hart Lane could become a pivotal moment in the Premiership season for Benitez’s men.

In truth, yesterday’s final outcome was harsh on Liverpool and they deserved at least some reward for their enterprise and unrelenting pursuit of an equaliser during a frantic final 15 minutes.

That run of four wins coincided with a spell of bench-warming for Peter Crouch. But handed a first start since late November with Kuyt given a much-needed breather, the striker spurned three clear headed openings before being hauled off after just 56 minutes.

Although that met with a disbelieving shake of the head from the forward, Crouch’s performance prompted a cryptic criticism from Benitez over his acceptance of the Spaniard’s rotation policy. With his blistering start to the season a fading memory with just one goal in two months, it could be a timely kick up the backside for the England international.

While aided by Liverpool’s profligacy, Blackburn were also indebted to a brilliant performance from former Anfield goalkeeper Friedel and the failure of referee Rob Styles to award a penalty after Craig Bellamy was clearly tugged back by Robbie Savage during the first half.

Bellamy was Liverpool’s best player on his first return to Ewood Park following his £6million summer move to Anfield, but it was ironic that the Welshman’s replacement, Benni McCarthy, should prove the matchwinner.

McCarthy, who netted in the 1-1 draw between these sides at Anfield in October, was again on target four minutes after the interval, the first league goal Liverpool had conceded in 689 minutes since William Gallas struck for Arsenal in November.

Put into context, Iain Dowie was still manager of Charlton when Pepe Reina had last been beaten in the competition.

Blackburn’s Lucas Neill, possibly playing one of his last games at Ewood with Liverpool ready to make another move for the Australian next month, was quiet in contrast to the impressive Steve Finnan, for whom Neill would provide competition should he arrive.

Usually Boxing clever, this was only Liverpool’s second defeat on St Stephen’s Day in the past 20 years. And it was a poor defeat too. Blackburn, hovering above the relegation zone, had taken just eight points from their previous 10 Premiership games and were hammered 6-2 by Arsenal at the weekend, and had not beaten Liverpool in their last 16 Premiership encounters spread over 10 years.

Benitez reverted to the 3-5-2 formation that served Liverpool so well at

Wigan earlier in the month, making three changes in total with Sami Hyypia returning to the starting line-up and Mark Gonzalez replacing Jermaine Pennant in midfield. However, this setback wasn’t a result of any tactical tinkering from the Anfield manager.

The first half followed a similar pattern to recent weeks, with Liverpool dominating possession and chances against clearly inferior opposition but lacking the composure to capitalise on their opportunities.

Admittedly, Benitez’s side weren’t helped by an oversight from referee Styles after Bellamy, determined to make an impression to silence the baying home crowd, was inevitably at the centre of the afternoon’s main talking point on 17 minutes.

A Gonzalez corner from the right was helped on by Jamie Carragher into the path of Bellamy inside the six-yard box, whose attempts to swivel and strike the ball home were hampered by Savage holding him back.

Only Bellamy appealed with any conviction, but television replays revealed the Liverpool man was right to be upset and Styles should have awarded the spot-kick.

Bellamy was within inches of netting nine minutes before the break, John Arne Riise heading Xabi Alonso’s glorious crossfield pass across the face of goal into the path of the Welsh striker who, arriving before Blackburn centre-back Andre Ooijer, clipped the ball just wide with the outside of his right foot.

Liverpool had stated their intentions from the first whistle, Friedel twice called into action in the opening moments, first holding a Crouch header after a bright run and cross from the right by Bellamy and then clutching Riise’s 20-yard drive. It was to prove a precursor of what was to follow.

Despite his height, heading has never been Crouch’s forte and the striker was twice let down by weak execution before half-time, nodding tamely at Friedel from a Finnan cross on 18 minutes and then, in a carbon copy 10 minutes before the interval, wasting an even more presentable opening from the same source.

Blackburn did muster some response to the red barrage. Savage headed a David Bentley cross woefully wide after being left unmarked in the area and after Reina was almost embarrassed by a Morten Gamst Pedersen shot from range, the Spaniard safely held a powerful effort from McCarthy.

And the South African was on hand to make Liverpool pay for their first-half profligacy four minutes after the break as Blackburn went ahead completely against the run of play. A clever pass from Tugay put Pedersen in behind the visiting defence down the Liverpool right and the Norwegian crossed low for McCarthy to turn home inside the six-yard box.

The goal appeared to knock Liverpool sideways and it took the visitors a good quarter-of-an-hour to clear their heads before again building any sustained pressure on the Blackburn goal.

When they did manage to find a way through they found Friedel in heroic form, the goalkeeper denying substitute Kuyt – on for Crouch to reinvigorate the Liverpool attack – from close range after Bellamy had touched on Riise’s cross before Alonso hit the post with a shot from the edge of the area.

In the final 10 minutes, Friedel also saved well at the far post after Finnan had found another substitute, Luis Garcia, with a well-weighted cross, and then made an even better stop to turn behind another long-range Alonso shot.

Five minutes of added time sent Blackburn manager Mark Hughes into a minor fit but Liverpool could have played until next Christmas and they wouldn’t have scored.

Rafa bemoans Reds finishing

By Chris Stanton - Sky Sports

Rafa Benitez bemoaned Liverpool's wayward finishing after The Reds slipped to a Boxing Day defeat at Blackburn.

Chances came and went for Liverpool either side of Benni McCarthy's 49th minute winner for Rovers leading Benitez to cut a frustrated figure.

After back-to-back wins away from home appeared to have banished Liverpool's travel sickness, familiar symptoms were in evidence at Ewood Park.

"We created a lot of clear chances, but you need to score," Benitez told PremPlus.

"We cannot understand how we lost.

"We had maybe five or six chances and if you score it is a different game.

"When we are playing away we are creating more than the other team but not scoring. We saw that at the beginning of the season and we saw it today."

Benitez opted to split up his promising partnership of Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy for the match at Blackburn, preferring instead to deploy Peter Crouch.

He added: "There is no question now we have better strikers and all of them have got to fight for their position and keep their position.

"We had a lot of clear attempts in this game and we couldn't score. You must be disappointed but when you have created so many chances you can't do anything else."

Hughes: A vital win

By Chris Stanton - Sky Sports

Mark Hughes hailed a vital win for his Blackburn side after they shrugged off defeat at Arsenal to beat Liverpool 1-0
on Boxing Day.

Benni McCarthy's 49th minute strike earned Rovers victory over The Reds - just three days after Hughes's team had shipped six goals at Arsenal.

The Welshman believes his side's determination shone through in a hard-working team performance.

"I think everybody saw the determination and resilience in the side," Hughes told PremPlus.

"It was a great response after the weekend.

"Once we scored the goal we fought every inch of the way and it's a vital win for us.

"We know what we have to do [to avoid a battle against relegation], we're not going to worry about other teams."

Hughes admits his side's first-half display was too tentative.

"We played a little bit in front of them so after half-time we tried to force them back and get them running back towards their goal and we managed to do that."

McCarthy's winner was the South African's 10th goal of the season, but Hughes believes there is still more to come from the flamboyant striker.

"It is a great return for Benni because he is still adjusting to the pace and power of the Premiership," added Hughes.

"But as he is adjusting he is still scoring goals and that is the mark of a true striker."

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