An unlikely source of goals for Blackburn Rovers, Ciccio Grabbi, struck a late equaliser at Ewood Park last night to give his side a point their perseverence deserved. It would also have been a travesty if the sublimely gifted Damien Duff, by far the classiest player on the pitch, had ended on the losing side.
Coveted by Liverpool, Duff's trickery had paved the way for David Dunn's opener for Blackburn, who then fell behind as Danny Murphy and John Arne Riise scored for Liverpool. But Graeme Souness, whose name had been roundly abused by Liverpool fans, sent on Grabbi, an often profligate figure in front of goal but accuracy personified here with his powerful header.
Souness was then sent to the stands for arguing with the referee, Steve Bennett, but his Liverpool counterpart, Gerard Houllier, will have been most frustrated by this draw. His newly formed strike force of El Hadji Diouf and Michael Owen struggled to find any understanding and at one point Owen signalled his irritation at the Senegalese forward's selfishness when Owen was better placed.
The first half had swung Rovers' way and then Liverpool's. Duff, who flew out of the traps, showed why he is so admired by Houllier by leading the Liverpool manager's right flank a merry dance in the opening stages.
Within 100 seconds, Duff had tricked his way past Murphy and Abel Xavier and delivered a dangerous cross which Jerzy Dudek did well to clutch as it sped across his goalmouth.
After beating Murphy and Xavier again in quick succession, Duff truly embarrassed his would-be suitors in the seventh minute. Again Xavier was humbled, Liverpool's right-back left marking thin air as Duff ghosted past him.
The Irishman's cross was cleverly angled, arrowing straight to Dunn who controlled the ball with his right foot, steering it away from Djimi Traore and despatching it unerringly past Dudek with his right. Advice drummed into Dunn by his grandfather, of the importance of being two-footed, had been productively heeded.
Blackburn were dominant at this point: Tugay was ruling midfield, Duff was all turns of pace and direction while Lucas Neill's occasional forays from right-back lent Rovers further attacking options. They could have been two goals to the good in the 17th minute but Dudek blocked a shot from Cole, who probably should have been less selfish and passed inside to Dunn or Dwight Yorke.
First shaken, then stirring, Liverpool began to claw their way back into contention primarily because Didi Hamann took responsibility, driving his team-mates forward.
The German laced a free-kick wide before Owen was dispossessed by Craig Short following a fine reverse pass from Murphy. To the delight of their huge travelling support, Liverpool were coming to life.
Their deserved equaliser stemmed from a piece of stupidity by Andy Cole, who chopped petulantly at Hamann, gifting the German a free-kick 40 yards out. Hamann rolled the ball to Gerrard, who accelerated the move with a firmly struck pass down the inside-right channel towards Murphy.
In a blur of movement, Murphy sent the ball out wide with the deftest of flicks towards the galloping Xavier and then sprinted inside to find space in Brad Friedel's box. Xavier's return pass was weighted perfectly for Murphy, who equalised with a crisp right-foot shot across Friedel. It was an outstanding goal, one that combined skill and speed in equal measure.
The failure of Owen and Diouf to click here forced Houllier to act and he withdrew both - possibly because he did not want to single one out - just after the hour, sending on Vladimir Smicer and Heskey. Smicer's impact was almost immediate, the Czech crossing from the left towards the far post where Riise looped a header over Friedel.
But there is steel in this Blackburn side forged from Jack Walker's bequest. Souness sent on Grabbi and he made his presence felt to spectacular effect, driving down the left and setting up Duff to deliver a cross which caused confusion in Dudek's box. The ball actually carried across the area, landing at the feet of Dunn on the right, and the England Under-21 midfielder's return brought rich reward, being met with a powerful header by Grabbi.
The last few minutes were frantic. As tempers began to flare, Grabbi was cautioned for throwing the ball away while Souness, after remonstrating with Bennett, was sent to the stands.
Yet Souness will take great confidence from the way his well-balanced side fought back to take a point, as well as the news that Matt Jansen has made a welcome return to training after recovering from the summer scooter accident that left him in a coma. Souness is building a promising side here but he needs to hold on to Duff, who cannot sign his contract quickly enough for Blackburn's liking.
Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Short (Grabbi 82), Taylor, Johansson, Dunn, Flitcroft, Tugay, Duff, Yorke, Cole.
Subs Not Used: Hignett, Mahon, Berg, Kelly.
Booked: Cole, Grabbi, Yorke.
Goals: Dunn 16, Grabbi 83.
Liverpool: Dudek, Xavier, Hyypia, Henchoz, Traore, Murphy, Gerrard, Hamann, Riise (Diao 87), Diouf (Smicer 64), Owen (Heskey 64).
Subs Not Used: Carragher, Kirkland.
Goals: Murphy 31, Riise 77.
Ref: Steve Bennett (Kent)
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