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Mixed news for Liverpool as Sissoko blow mars win

Liverpool's satisfaction at reaching the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup was offset by the dislocated shoulder suffered by Mohamed Sissoko last night that is likely to keep the Mali midfield player out of action for at least a month. Daniel Agger, the Denmark defender, scored the first-half goal in the fifth minute of time added on for Sissoko to receive treatment.

Winning away on English soil for the first time this season, Liverpool’s ride was never comfortable, least of all after Craig Bellamy had a penalty saved midway through the second period, but Birmingham City can take heart from a performance that contrasted greatly with their 7-0 defeat by these opponents in the FA Cup quarter-finals in March.

Sissoko was the only player who started for Liverpool in both ties and it was after a seemingly innocuous clash with Mehdi Nafti midway through the first half that he fell to the ground, then lay disturbingly motionless. The former Valencia player was kept in hospital overnight.

“The good news is that we are through to the next round,” Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, said. “The bad news is that Momo has dislocated his shoulder. We do not know how long he will be out, maybe at least one month. We will miss a player who plays every game.”

It was at St Andrew’s last season that Sissoko had made his comeback after a month on the sidelines, when he wore protective goggles after a horrendous eye injury that left him fearing for his sight. Liverpool were not unduly affected by his loss last night. Xabi Alonso came on to steady the ship in his usual understated style.

Jermaine Pennant was another survivor from the teams’ last meeting, albeit having swapped colours, and Birmingham fans recognised the quality of delivery he provided for the Liverpool goal. Agger’s initial header from the £6.7 million winger’s corner rebounded back off Radhi Jaidi and the defender lashed the ball in with his left foot from the corner of the six-yard area.

It was a pivotal moment because most of Liverpool’s many chances fell to Bellamy, who seemed as if he would not have scored if the teams were still playing today. His diffidence in front of goal was epitomised in the 64th minute when, Jaidi having lunged in to upend Mark González, the Wales striker’s staggered run-up did not deceive Maik Taylor, who saved the penalty with ease.

Benítez said that he was not too concerned that Bellamy had failed to add to his season’s meagre tally of two goals. “He was working really hard,” the manager said. “And if a striker’s working hard, I feel the goals will come. If you have not played for two or three games, you know you have to work harder than the others.”

Benítez also took the opportunity to confirm his commitment to Liverpool after reports linking him with a desire to work in Italy. “I’m very happy at Liverpool,” he said.

The closest Birmingham came to scoring was when Julian Gray smashed a shot over in the fifth minute, after fine approach play from D. J. Campbell and Cameron Jerome, although Jerome was unfortunate not even to earn a free kick after he was impeded by Gabriel Paletta on the edge of the penalty area at the end of the first half.

“The foul on Cameron Jerome was blatant,” Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, said in his critique of Howard Webb’s refereeing display. “It looks to me as if any decision goes towards the Premiership team. Overall, his decision-making was poor. Every little decision went Liverpool’s way. They won’t be cup-ties soon, we’ll be playing in high heels and skirts.”

At least Bruce, clutching Pennant’s shirt, can start to forget that biggest defeat for 48 years and he appears to have rebuilt a squad capable of pushing hard for promotion. “I’ll always be reminded of that game,” he said. “I suppose I’ll have to live with it ever more.”

BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor — S Kelly, R Jaidi, Martin Taylor, M Sadler — S Larsson, M Nafti (sub: F Muamba, 68min), N Danns, J Gray — D Campbell (sub: G McSheffrey, 58), C Jerome (sub: N Bendtner, 58). Substitutes not used: C Doyle, N Kilkenny. Booked: Nafti, Jaidi, Larsson.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Line up on LFChistory.

Copyright - The Times



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