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