City's equaliser by Fowler timed for maximum effect
When it seemed there was no chance that he could not miscue or crack wide, Manchester City presented Robbie Fowler with an opportunity for the equaliser that was simply too easy to miss.
Fowler's best days had been at Liverpool, but the striker is still capable of the dramatic, and nothing quite matched an injury-time goal for a club who seemed to be tumbling hopelessly towards the Premiership's ugly end.
On the touchline Kevin Keegan bounced around his technical area in celebration of a toe-poke from two yards out that had rescued his team from a potentially devastating defeat, but still left them without a win in 11 games.
Yards away Gerard Houllier, Liverpool's manager, angrily sent Phil Thompson back towards the tunnel as his assistant railed against an injustice few others could see.
The two opposing managers shared a quick embrace at the end, a gesture symbolic of the suffocating traditions and expectations as they try to coax two staggering clubs into some kind of consistency.
Liverpool, as Houllier acknowledged, were dreadful in the first half, but were assisted by a City team who just seemed unable to finish the chances they created, counting Fowler among the most profligate.
He had already failed to turn in two chances created by Shaun Wright-Phillips within the first 10 minutes either side of a handball in his own area by Igor Biscan that referee Mike Riley chose to ignore.
There were two more opportunities in the second half that Fowler wasted as City began to feel the chill of the relegation zone grow ever closer. Even with a draw they are only three points clear of the three doomed places.
With Liverpool leading through Dietmar Hamann's exquisite 81st-minute shot from the edge of the area, City's last attack saw Nicolas Anelka's shot saved by Jerzy Dudek. The substitute Trevor Sinclair drilled in a second shot and, from just a few feet out, Fowler prodded the ball into the net.
Keegan said: "Robbie had five or six chances and he was always going to score one of them, and you would be surprised for him not to score more.
"His work-rate and enthusiasm are terrific at the moment and, while a lot of people have knocked him, he should be praised when he does well. He's fit now and that has always been the problem since he joined."
City's first goal came after half an hour in an attack that began with Steve McManaman looping the ball over Liverpool's painfully slow defence for Anelka, who was only just denied a goal.
From Michael Tarnat's corner John Arne Riise, who had already been humiliated by Wright-Phillips's speed, threw an arm round Fowler and tipped him on to the ground. Anelka had no trouble converting the penalty, but there were absolutely no celebrations from the striker - just a grumpy saunter back to the halfway line, which might make City wonder about his state of mind. But City left the pitch for half-time comfortably in control of the game.
Keegan said: "The last thing I asked the players at half-time was, 'Can you give me another 45 minutes like that?' It seems the answer was no."
And it was really rather an emphatic answer. Although Fowler was stopped again by Dudek on the hour, Danny Murphy's corner on 64 minutes was headed home by Vladimir Smicer, also a goal-scorer against Bolton last week.
With City collapsing around them, Liverpool found themselves with a lead and only nine minutes left in which to protect it when Claudio Reyna's clearance fell to Hamann. His curling shot beat David Seaman in a strange re-enactment of Keegan's nadir as England manager during the defeat to Germany in 2000.
"I've seen him do that before against Seaman," Keegan said in a rare joke about his Wembley resignation. "It's nothing new."
The equaliser was all the more galling for Houllier after El-Hadji Diouf had missed a chance made by substitute Florent Sinama-Pongolle. "I wasn't disappointed that we went in one goal down because they dominated us in the first half," Houllier said.
"I asked for a reaction and they turned things around. Apart from two late chances the first half wasn't good enough. There was a lot of pressure on us." The Liverpool manager pointed out that he was not looking to make excuses, but could not resist running through the injuries he still had to Michael Owen, Milan Baros and Jamie Carragher. Owen should be back for the FA Cup game against Yeovil on Saturday, which should ease the pain.
As for City, they got an England striker back too yesterday in Fowler - a pity for them that it was injury time before he really turned up.
Manchester City (3-4-1-2): Seaman; Sommeil, Dunne, Distin; Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt (Macken 84), Reyna, Tarnat (Sinclair 71); McManaman (Sibierski 79); Fowler, Anelka. Subs: Ellegaard (g), Wiekens. Goals: Anelka (30 pen), Fowler (90). Booked: Sommeil.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Otsemobor (Henchoz 30), Hyypia, Biscan, Riise; Smicer (Sinama-Pongolle 77), Hamann, Gerrard (Diouf 60), Murphy; Kewell, Heskey. Subs: Luzi (g), Cheyrou. Goals: Smicer (64), Hamann (81). Booked: Kewell, Biscan.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorks).
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