Monday, April 5, 2010

Liverpool loose more ground at Birmingham

Liverpool's hopes of securing a Champions League spot are hanging by a slender thread after Birmingham defender Liam Ridgewell earned his side a share of the spoils at St. Andrew's.

Reds skipper Steven Gerrard put his side ahead a minute into the second half but Ridgewell levelled matters nine minutes later.

It means Rafael Benitez's side are four points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City and have played a game more.

And the Spaniard is still searching for a first Premier League victory over Blues in eight attempts spanning his six seasons at Anfield.

Birmingham again showed the resilience which has been their trademark in preserving a seven-month unbeaten home record.

And the share of the spoils with Liverpool means they have 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 cross-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 after winning a controversial penalty 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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