David Ngog dive saves the day for luckless Liverpool
Returning captain Steven Gerrard converts suspect penalty to salvage draw for Rafa Benitez
Liverpool 2 Birmingham 2. A drowning man cannot be too sniffy about who throws him a life saver, and so a rather ashamed Rafa Benitez had to admit that the incident which led to Liverpool's equaliser, a penalty coolly converted by returning captain Steven Gerrard after his teammate David Ngog had visibly dived over a challenge from Birmingham's Lee Carsley, was somewhat suspect.
"It was a pity to score with a penalty that maybe wasn't a penalty. It is not fair sometimes but we have had a lot of things go against us this season and we deserved more from this game," he told the Guardian. "It turned out to be positive for us. We attacked and attacked and we deserved to win but maybe it wasn't a penalty."
His opposite number Alex McLeish, a man equally in need of Premier League points was more forthright: "It was a terrific dive. Sometimes there is a debate over a penalty when there is contact but there was none here. It was not even close to being a penalty." Carsley too was apoplectic: "I know I didn't touch him and I said to the referee to book me or send me off. That would have made me feel better."
McLeish, as angry as he would be by the nature of Liverpool's second goal, could at least take the satisfaction of denying Benitez a victory over Birmingham for the seventh time. But the home side started the stronger, despite Fernando Torres not even being on the bench, and his replacement Ngog scored an emphatic volley from a Glen Johnson cross within fifteen minutes to rouse the Anfield faithful. But before the half-hour mark the visitors were level, a deep James McFadden free kick being nodded on across the box for Christian Benitez to head past Pepe Reina for his first Birmingham goal.
Liverpool continued to press and were unlucky with injury again in this cursed season, as Albert Riera succumbed to a hamstring just before half time, leading to an enforced appearance for a clearly unfit Gerrard. Moments after the England man took the pitch, Birmingham took the lead after Jerome hammered in an unstoppable 30-yard shot that dipped and beat a despairing Reina.
The Anfield crowd kept behind the team, and the second half saw Liverpool throw the kitchen sink at Birmingham, with Johnson impressing time and again down the right side and with Gerrard orchestrating matters further up the pitch. The captain headed against the bar just after the hour mark, but the added urgency he brought even while carrying the remnants of an adductor injury was plain to see.
Finally with 20 minutes to go, luck broke for Liverpool as Ngog drifted into the penalty area and invited a somewhat clumsy tackle from former Everton man Carsley. Ngog's dive was theatrical and should have earned him a booking - instead it possibly saved Rafa Benitez's skin again as Gerrard kept his nerve to send Joe Hart the wrong way. The home side pushed desperately for the third, but resolute defending from Birmingham kept them in game.
Benitez now has an international break to try to coax some of his players back to health - he also lost livewire Yossi Benayoun last night - before the visit of free-spending Manchester City to Anfield in 11 days time. ·
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