Liverpool surrendered a two-goal advantage for the second game in succession at Anfield last night when Clinton Morrison rescued an unlikely point for newly promoted Birmingham City with a two-goal salvo after well-taken strikes by Danny Murphy and Steven Gerrard had put the Merseysiders in control.
The Birmingham supporters who made themselves heard above Liverpool's Kop needed long memories to recall success at Anfield. Their last win at the Merseyside fortress was in 1978 when Sir Alf Ramsey was manager and their last league visit, 16 years ago, saw David Seaman concede five goals without reply.
On top of that, Birmingham followers had to endure a controversial Millennium Stadium defeat in the 2001 Worthington Cup final which was followed by a comprehensive FA Cup reverse here in January.
It was no surprise therefore that Liverpool called the tune and took an interval advantage which should have been greater than Murphy's solitary goal, which enlivened the contest in the 25th minute.
When Bryan Hughes pushed over El Hadji Diouf 25 yards out, the alarm bells rang in the visiting defence. Murphy confirmed their fears by guiding the ensuing free-kick right-footed around the wall and in off Nico Vaesen's near post.
If Michael Owen had shown the same eye for goal during that first period, Liverpool would have been able to coast through the second half but the England striker again struggled to assert himself as a couple of glittering opportunities slipped though his grasp.
The first of those chances was brilliantly set up by his England colleague Steven Gerrard, whose diagonal ball was perfectly weighted for the speedy Owen to run on to. Vaesen made it difficult by standing firm but Owen should still have avoided the goalkeeper's legs with his goal attempt, which resulted in the rebound falling kindly for the striker to provide John Arne Riise with a situation to miss equally embarrassingly.
Owen's next opening came moments before the interval following a thrilling burst down the middle by Murphy. Again the pass from one England player to another was perfect but again the finish was lacking, Owen rounding the goalkeeper before failing to get his shot on target.
Birmingham at that stage had posed few threats to a home defence again superbly marshalled by Sami Hyypia, who won a succession of clearing headers. When the big Finn for once was caught out of position, his Swiss colleague Stephane Henchoz - withdrawn injured at half-time - reacted smartly to prevent Morrison from capitalising on a ball into the penalty area by Jeff Kenna.
Birmingham rallied in search of the equaliser at the outset of the second half but within three minutes Liverpool had extended their lead through Gerrard's first goal of the season.
Owen and Diouf combined in the deep to launch a swift counter-attack and Diouf, showing great control as he broke forward at speed, laid the ball into the path of the overlapping Gerrard. He shot diagonally across Vaesen who could only deflect it into the far corner.
By then Gerard Houllier had introduced Emile Heskey on the left as a replacement for Henchoz and also made an international link-up with Owen which should have reaped dividends. On this occasion Owen's close-range shot was splendidly blocked by Vaesen.
Thoughts that Liverpool had killed off Birmingham's resistance were seriously misplaced, however. Shortly after Jerzy Dudek had rescued the Merseysiders with a terrific reaction save from Hughes, Steve Bruce's team grabbed a lifeline.
A mistake by Djimi Traore let in Stern John and his burst to the by-line and fierce low cross was met by the inrushing Morrison who forced the ball over the line.
Morrison's stunning riposte made for a more exciting finale than had been envisaged as Liverpool were forced to go up a gear to repel their determined opponents. Murphy, whose performance from beginning to end was outstanding, almost removed the anxiety of his team-mates by running on to Dietmar Hamann's pass and striking the foot of an upright with a first time drive.
Owen then looked sure to seal the points for Liverpool when beating the offside flag to take Murphy's pass in his stride, only to miss the target.
It all proved costly when, in the last minute of stoppage time, a cross by substitute Stan Lazarides was met by Morrison's glancing header, which crept in off the inside of the far post.
Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Henchoz (Heskey 45), Hyypia, Traore, Murphy, Hamann, Gerrard, Riise (Diao 72), Owen, Diouf (Berger 80).
Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Baros.
Goals: Murphy 25, Gerrard 49.
Birmingham: Vaesen, Kenna, Cunningham, Purse, Grainger, Devlin, Savage, Hughes (Horsfield 74), Damien Johnson (Lazaridis 75), John (Carter 75), Morrison.
Subs Not Used: Bennett, Eaden.
Goals: Morrison 61, 90.
Ref: N Barry (N Lincolnshire). Wigan
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