Patience is wearing thin at Liverpool
Brad Friedel is just one more famous alumni of Anfield, but he was the only man on the pitch after the final whistle that the Kop were applauding with any great enthusiasm. Their team are adrift on a run of eight games that have yielded just three points; it is a story of woe that stretches back to the start of November and threatens to continue well into next year.
The Blackburn goalkeeper was exemplary as usual. No change there. But there was precious little sign of life in Liverpool's damaged attack either. Their goal came from John Arne Riise in midfield, and Gerard Houllier, a manager who has immersed himself in the history of his club, will know that no Liverpool side have endured a run as bad as this since the 1953-54 season when Liverpool were relegated.
When Liverpool face Arsenal on Sunday, Houllier will start the match nine points behind Arsene Wenger, with no sign from his players that the slump will stop soon. After their defeat by Sunderland this month, Houllier announced it would not get any worse. He said yesterday that he would be patient, though that quality seems to be wearing thin at Anfield.
"I thought it was going to be the scrappy 1-0 win that I was looking for," the Liverpool manager said. "I knew it would be a tight 1-0 that would get us out of this spell. But they scored a great goal and it was a fair result. We showed the character to get back in this game, but it's a tricky period for us and when you go through those you just have to keep your head up and keep going."
The tricky period has almost erased the gains made by Liverpool during the club's best start to a Premiership season. After Arsenal they will have another chance to resurrect their dismal last two months at Newcastle on New Year's day, but, if this losing run lasts beyond that game, the title will surely be well out of their reach. At this rate it will all be over before the anniversary of Houllier's inspirational return from illness last season arrives in March.
There could be few better examples of Liverpool's dwindling confidence than the stumble and poke with which Michael Owen met Riise's cross into the six-yard box in stoppage time. Thirteen minutes earlier, Andy Cole, the Blackburn striker with a formidable record for stumbling in front of goal, had beaten Chris Kirkland with a dipping volley from 30 yards that plunged the Kop into silence. It was a spectacular climax to a period of dominance for Blackburn that, their manager Graeme Souness said, had begun after half an hour.
"I think this match was like the Manchester United game because we showed our opponents too much respect for the first half an hour," Souness said. "After that, we got into the game and in the second half we bossed the match. I knew that if we got two or three chances we would score. When we equalised we could have gone on to win the game because Liverpool looked a little bit nervous, given their run of results."
Four points from games against United and Liverpool have signalled the transformation of Souness's side into a team fit for the big occasion.
Against Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy in midfield, Tugay, of Turkey, looked comfortably in control, though Cole's fifth goal in six games came from Stephane Henchoz's misplaced header out of defence.
"I feel we should have more points on the board," Souness said. "Saying that, I would be happy to finish 10th again." Then a pause. "And if you believe that, you'll believe anything."
Even without an orthodox left-back against them, Liverpool were unable to break down Blackburn in a finale that hardly threatened to engulf their opponents. Houllier sent on Igor Biscan, Liverpool's awkward Croatian, to play on the right wing, but his enthusiastic double shot on 76 minutes was all the substitute could manage.
Liverpool's goal was made by Owen, who spotted Riise's run down the left on 17 minutes and gave the Norwegian international the ball outside the area. It is rarely that Riise bothers to swing his right boot, but, cutting in from the left wing, his shot took a hefty deflection off Lucas Neill and beat Friedel. Owen's only other chance before stoppage time was a through ball from Vladimir Smicer that the striker put wide.
Houllier again said that he thought his team had turned the corner when they beat Aston Villa in the Worthington Cup. "It's frustrating," he said. "It's a team that is young, but we have to be patient. When you go through a period like this, you either get stronger or you sink."
Right now they are sinking fast. Arsenal on Sunday could be their last glimpse of the top of the Premiership table for some time.
Liverpool: Kirkland, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Traore (Diouf 83), Smicer (Biscan 65), Murphy, Gerrard, Riise, Heskey (Baros 59), Owen.
Subs Not Used: Diao, Arphexad.
Goals: Riise 17.
Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Taylor, Short, Johansson (Ostenstad 52), Thompson, Flitcroft, Tugay, Duff, Cole, Yorke.
Subs Not Used: Kelly, Todd, Curtis, Danns.
Goals: Cole 77.
Ref: N Barry (N Lincolnshire).
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