Nearly toppled

Birmingham battered five-times winners Liverpool to the brink of a third consecutive FA Cup disaster.

But the attack that is fuelling the revivalist fervour of a rebuilt St Andrews could not conjure the strike that would have dumped out the 1992 winners.

Not that Roy Evans' side will view securing a replay on January 18 as any more than a temporary reprieve, having lost to both Bolton and Bristol City at Anfield in the third round in the last two seasons.

Unbeaten for nine games, and boasting a 100% Premiership record over Christmas, the Merseyside giants were made so uncomfortable by the Endsleigh Division Two leaders that Neil Ruddock clashed with his own goalkeeper David James in the final, frantic last moments.

It is easy to see why the Blues crowd is convinced the second city club is on the verge of returning to the big time, as they made almost all the running.

They put seven past Blackpool to take Barry Fry's unbeaten run to 23 games and were boosted by the return of Peter Shearer and Ricky Otto from his sickbed.

Although they had lost their previous five encounters with Liverpool, and crashed out to Kidderminster last season, they clearly relished the chance to turn the tables.

They attacked with exuberance and belief, but also defended powerfully, massing bodies behind the ball whenever it was lost.

On a bumpy pitch which hindered their natural passing game, Liverpool relied on swift counters led by Steve McManaman, his early low shot plucked to safety at full strength by Ian Bennett.

But his full England team-mate Rob Jones looked uneasy against the pace of Steve Claridge and the trickery of Louie Donowa, while goalkeeper David James had one of those games which reminded everyone of his fallibility to crosses.

He was lucky again when Otto fired straight at him, when Claridge completely miscued a volley and, most of all, in the 31st minute when Donowa bamboozled Jones but drove his angled shot against the outside of the near post.

Then, when Claridge robbed a cocksure John Scales, Kenny Lowe cracked a superb rising shot from nearly 30 yards which James, back-pedalling, tipped over his bar.

Bennett, who walked away from a car crash on Wednesday, saved from Ian Rush's shot on the turn and more brilliantly when Scales, Bjornebye and McManaman set up Fowler for a shot towards the top right hand corner.

But he had hardly anything to do in the second half when Birmingham took full control, surging forward on a wave of deep-throated encouragement.

But although Otto and Claridge drove in crisp shots, and Donowa continued to rampage, they could not carve out the clear chance that would have completed Liverpool's embarrassment.

And in the 88th minute Bennett came to their rescue, diving low to his left to pounce on a McManaman shot that nearly gave Liverpool a win their performance did not merit.

Birmingham boss Barry Fry said: "Aren't statistics wonderful? It may come into their minds if we go 2-0 up early on! But seriously, the tie's not over yet. The last time I was at Anfield was 30 years ago with Manchester United reserves when Tommy Smith kicked me all over the place. I hope I can see him up there so I can get my revenge. We thought we did enough to win here. We just shaded it on chances, though Ian Bennett made a couple of brilliant saves. But they kept going right to the end and no-one can dispute that we deserved a replay at Anfield at the least."

Liverpool manager Roy Evans said: "We haven't got through but we've been this way before. The ball's in our court and it's up to us to make sure we go back to Anfield and win it this time."

Copyright  - British Soccer Week

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