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Benítez's spare parts of class leave Birmingham chasing ball and safety

Birmingham City's theme song, Keep Right On To The End Of The Road, seems particularly apt just now. As one Scotsman, Alex McLeish, strives to keep them in the Premier League he can hardly fail to be unaware of the significance of the words of another, Harry Lauder. Especially the bit about being tired and weary but still carrying on.

On Saturday Birmingham appeared to be taking an important step towards the happy abode of 17th place when they ran into a contraflow, losing a 2-0 lead to end up drawing with Liverpool at round about the same time the team below them in the bottom three, Fulham, were recovering from a two-goal deficit to win at Manchester City. As a result McLeish's side have to win at Craven Cottage this weekend to retain a realistic chance of survival.

Birmingham celebrated McLeish's arrival at St Andrew's with a 3-2 victory at Tottenham at the start of December but they have not won away since then and now McLeish is putting his faith in the law of averages. "We are due to have an away victory and we can go to Fulham and win," he declared after this game. "I don't think we need get paranoid about today. We've got to go along the same lines next week."

He is both pragmatist and realist. "There is no magic wand," he said. "We have got a good goal difference but lose goals through individual errors and that has cost us this season." Birmingham supporters may admire his candour at the same time remembering that he got the job on the back of Scotland's gallant failure to qualify for the European Championship. St Andrew's does not need another near miss.

McLeish has not done badly at Brum with only one defeat in 11 home games, although seven of those have been drawn. Yet it is hard to escape the feeling that at the heart of Birmingham's problems has been a fundamental lack of quality, particularly in defence. This was why they failed to hold out against Rafael Benítez's alternative Liverpool side, the one he picks to give his Champions League players a rest.

Benítez made nine changes to the midweek starting line-up against Chelsea but compared with the side that had won 2-0 at Fulham the previous Saturday there was only one, Damien Plessis replacing Javier Mascherano. Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt were warming up as Birmingham scored their second goal but were not needed, Peter Crouch and Yossi Benayoun securing the point which assured Liverpool a presence in next season's Champions League, albeit at the qualifying stage.

They appeared headed for defeat when Birmingham, having led at half-time through Mikael Forssell's sharp finish from James McFadden's centre, scored again in the 55th minute when Sebastian Larsson swung a free-kick into the top-left corner of the net after José Reina's view had been partly obscured by Radhi Jaidi, who stood glaring at the goalkeeper from an offside position. Not interfering, said the referee, Peter Walton. "The offside rule is stupid now, it really is stupid," said Benítez.

Either way Jermaine Pennant inspired Liverpool's recovery with a run which, helped by an exchange of passes with Benayoun, took him from inside his own half to the heart of the Birmingham defence before he found Andriy Voronin, who set up a simple chance for Crouch. Benayoun then headed the scores level, from Lucas Leiva's cross, via a Jaidi deflection.

McLeish felt Liverpool's spare parts looked the fresher for their week's rest and admitted that "we looked knackered compared to them". True, but part of the reason was that, when teams like Birmingham make a habit of giving the ball away to opponents like Liverpool, they wear themselves out trying to get it back. "Before the game we would have taken a draw with Liverpool but, having gone 2-0 ahead, you think it is sewn up," McLeish said. "The players have got to pick themselves up. They are more angry than anything."

If Birmingham can remain sufficiently annoyed to defend better at Craven Cottage they may avoid going down for the second time in three seasons. Their final game is at home to Blackburn, who have already beaten them twice at Ewood Park in the Premier League and Carling Cup.

Man of the match Jermaine Pennant (Liverpool)

Match Facts:

Forssell 34
Larsson 55

Crouch 63
Benayoun 76

Maik Taylor, Stephen Kelly, David Murphy, Radhi Jaidi, Liam Ridgewell (Franck Queudrue, 77), Olivier Kapo (Gary McSheffrey, 77), Fabrice Muamba, Sebastian Larsson, Medhi Nafti, Mikael Forssell (Mauro Matias Zarate, 87), James McFadden

Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Sami Hyypia, Steve Finnan, Martin Skrtel, John Arne Riise (Emiliano Insua, 64), Lucas Leiva, Damien Plessis, Jermaine Pennant, Yossi Benayoun, Peter Crouch, Andriy Voronin

Copyright - The Guardian

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