Bruce happy to survive eruption with a point

Let us hope this slow-burner of a match will serve as an inspiration for the rest of the Premiership season. Just when everybody was preparing to write it off as yet another example of the elite division's descent into deadly dullness, it exploded into the sort of life that might justify even some of the exorbitant ticket prices said to be driving fans away.

After a largely tedious, uneventful first half that had lived up or, rather, down to all expectations, these previously goal-shy teams suddenly found the net twice each in the space of a frantic 17 minutes. There could have been several other goals, too, as Liverpool drove forward purposefully in the second half and Birmingham responded in kind.

As Steve Bruce, the Blues' manager, said: "It was entertaining, to say the least. It just erupted. I don't think anybody would have predicted at half-time that it would end up 2-2. It was a smashing game in the second half."

But Bruce was decidedly unhappy about the decision that led to Liverpool's second, equalising goal five minutes from the end. He described the free-kick awarded for an alleged foul by Julian Gray on Steven Gerrard as "a rank bad decision" and he did seem to have a point in arguing that Gerrard merely fell over.

Having seen his team lose their first three home games, though, Bruce was just relieved to see them avoid defeat. "After the start we've had," he said, "I thought we showed a lot of character. We went 1-0 down, but then got ourselves in a position where we could have won."

But Liverpool really ought to have been the winners against opponents weakened savagely in midfield by injuries. The European champions dominated the first half in lordly manner, yet managed only one serious shot - a beautiful move between Peter Crouch and Gerrard that saw the Liverpool captain drive a 25-yard shot against a post.

Gerrard launched the visitors' second-half onslaught. He put Stephen Warnock through for a shot Maik Taylor turned round his near post, and it was his finely judged through ball that Luis Garcia tucked into the bottom corner in the 68th minute. The introduction of Garcia for Florent Sinama-Pongolle on the hour also made all the difference.

Birmingham levelled in the 72nd minute after Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina had come for, and missed, a Jermaine Pennant corner. When Gray returned the ball from the right, Warnock's head glanced into his own net for the first goal the Merseysiders had conceded this season. With both teams going hammer and tongs, the hosts went ahead three minutes later.

Reina could not hold Emile Heskey's powerful downward header from Pennant's cross and Walter Pandiani, on for the out-of-sorts Mikael Forssell three minutes earlier, just managed to poke the ball in.

Liverpool's equaliser was eventful. Jamie Carragher first headed Gerrard's set-piece cross against the underside of the bar. It bounced up against Taylor's back and was about to cross the line when Neil Kilkenny, only 19 and pressed into service in midfield, scooped it out with his hand and was promptly sent off. "He'll certainly remember his debut!" reflected Bruce.

Djibril Cisse converted the penalty without fuss. He also provided a right-wing centre that Crouch, all 6ft 7ins of him, ought to have headed in from six yards instead of over. Liverpool's gangling striker was more accurate with a header from a Xabi Alonso corner in stoppage time, but Clapham's head came to the rescue.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, clearly disappointed at dropping more points, tried to take comfort that his team, still unbeaten, were winning and drawing rather than losing. Heartened, too, by the Reds' two goals, he looked forward defiantly to Wednesday's daunting Champions League game against Chelsea, saying: "We need to approach it with confidence, knowing we can score goals."

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