Robbed by Bad Boy Bellamy.
Saturday 14th October 2006, 15:00
It was inevitable wasn`t it? Craig Bellamy just had to score his first league goal for Liverpool against us. To make matters worse, he didn`t even play that well but managed to swoop to score with his head, bringing Liverpool level after Rovers had deservedly taken the lead.
Rovers kicked off but it was Liverpool who showed the early initiative with Peter Crouch twice going close, the second of which was cleared off the line by Zurab Khizanishvili.
However, Rovers have developed a knack for throwing their opponents off balance in recent weeks by scoring at crucial times; Saturday was no exception. A whipped ball into the box was missed by Liverpool`s defence, who are starting to show signs of their comical defending that was synonymous with their poor form a few years ago. Benni McCarthy was the benefactor this time, slotting home with Jose Reina stranded.
Instead of rousing Liverpool the goal did more to shock them and Rovers were able to comfortably take control of the match in wonderfully bright conditions. Rovers began moving the ball around with great authority and pace, moving from both sides of the pitch using the front-men well.
The link-up play and movement during the Rovers` recent matches in has been very impressive but the exhibition of quality passing and periods of possession at Anfield deserve special mention because of the notoriety and quality of the opposition.
Rovers were looking equally assured at the back. Khizanishvili and Andre Ooijer are developing a strong understanding and are both excellent readers of the game. They effectively over-shadowed Bellamy who was becoming increasingly frustrated with another poor performance. A number of timely interventions were crucial from the pair.
It was Lucas Neill though, who had to work the hardest on the left as an elusive Jermaine Pennant caused Rovers plenty of problems with a number of charges and deliveries into the box.
However, as half-time approached, Rovers led one-nil and looked comfortable. So much so that the Liverpool fans vented their anger by claiming Rovers were running a mock.
The second half began with Liverpool demonstrating urgency, though not through their play but their huffing and puffing around the park. Rovers continued to keep the ball well, with Bentley emulating the efforts of Pennant on Liverpool`s right-wing with some wonderful play, using his full repertoire of passes.
Contract rebel and Liverpool 'fan` Lucas Neill went the closest at the start of the second half, hitting a long distance effort narrowly wide as Rovers continued to show a threat on the break.
Mark Hughes` charges never looked like sitting back and defending their slender lead and they thought they had won a penalty after Shanbani Nonda was held back in the area by Sami Hyypia. But, they were once again thwarted by Mr. Clattenburg just as Jason Roberts had been in the fixture against Chelsea.
As the half wore on, restless home fans grew impatient and were left bemused when England hopeful and Liverpool`s only bright spark, Pennant, was substituted in place of Luis Garcia.
However, after a number of long distance rasping drives from the likes of Jon Arne Riise and Xabi Alonso, Liverpool finally did manage to draw level after one of their eight corners was put to good use.
A swirling cross was headed home by ex-Rover Bellamy in the 63rd minute. This sparked Liverpool into a period of concerted pressure but at no point did Rovers ever look worried. The closest Liverpool came taking the lead was from another drive by Riise that Friedel, at full stretch, managed to tip around the post.
In fact it was Rovers who could and perhaps should have taken the lead in the dying minutes. Jason Roberts, who had replaced McCarthy in the 80th minute, forced his way into the area but was held back. Bentley ran onto the lose ball and fired in a first time effort that deflected off of the advancing Reina and squirmed wide for a corner.
It is fair to say Rovers were a little fortunate to finish the game with eleven men as both Neill and Robbie Savage were extremely lucky not to receive second yellow cards after silly infringements.
Rovers will certainly come away from this fixture happier than their hosts, who will no doubt feel a sense of relief having picked up a point. The team are working well for each other and it is encouraging when you consider key players like Ryan Nelsen and Steven Reid are still to return. This will have provided an excellent work out and confidence booster ahead of Thursday`s journey to Poland.
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He has had his critics and he may not be the fastest player around but he is a superb reader of the game and is an uncompromising figure to face. He was solid and assured on Saturday.