Bright lights to video nasty

OUT of the Champions League, floundering in the Premier League but now a new low in this season of woe – relegated to the graveyard slot on Match of the Day.

Liverpool have become accustomed in recent years to having the majority of their games broadcast live and even when matches have kicked-off at the traditional 3pm on Saturday afternoon, extended highlights can be pretty much guaranteed.

Things, however, are changing. While the Reds’ trip to Blackburn was never going to command top billing in the weekend just gone, they can consider themselves fortunate that the ‘MOTD’ producers decided to give this fixture air time at all.

But should Liverpool keep playing like this in the future, they will have to get used to being shuffled down the pecking order as, ultimately, there were moments at Ewood Park when watching paint dry would have provided infinitely more entertainment.

Though it was never going to be a stroll against a side who pride themselves on being hard to beat and relish a physical battle, Liverpool ought to have seized the chance to maintain the momentum a derby day win had given them in the Ribble Valley.

In keeping with the way the past two months have gone, though, here was another missed opportunity, another hugely frustrating experience for Rafa Benitez, his players and supporters, another stuttering step.

While it is true to say Liverpool enjoyed the greater possession and threatened occasionally to break the deadlock, there can be no complaints that they returned to Merseyside with just a point.

Quite simply, they didn’t do enough to win the contest and the fact Blackburn keeper Paul Robinson was relatively untroubled during 90 humdrum minutes says everything you need to know about Liverpool’s shortcomings as an attacking force.

Yes, they could have emerged victorious and had Glen Johnson’s ball into David Ngog not taken an outrageous bobble as he shaped to shoot, there is reason to believe his effort would have whistled past Robinson rather than crashed off the crossbar.

“It was the worst bobble I’ve ever seen,” Johnson, who caught the eye once again, groaned. “Sometimes luck doesn’t go for you. We were pushing and pushing and it was so frustrating we couldn’t get that goal our play deserved.”

Still, for a side that has designs on reclaiming its place among the Champions League elite, it was nowhere near enough and you only have to compare Blackburn’s fortunes against the Reds’ biggest rivals this season to see their failings.

Arsenal thrashed them 6-2 at the Emirates Stadium in October, the same month that Chelsea put five unanswered goals past them at Stamford Bridge and Manchester United beat them 2-0 in a canter at Old Trafford.

Blackburn might epitomise obduracy on home turf – they have only been beaten twice at Ewood in the Premier League since Sam Allardyce took over as manager last December – but Liverpool should have had enough wit and wisdom to come out on top.

Or should they? This was largely the same side that had struggled to create clear chances at Goodison Park six days earlier and, if anything, it had more of an attacking lilt to it, as Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera came in for Ngog and Fabio Aurelio.

Yet Riera created little during the time he spent on the pitch and Benayoun – normally such a bright, busy, inventive figure – huffed and puffed to no avail, never moving with the élan that has graced his play this calendar year.

You may have thought, then, this would have been the ideal place to give Alberto Aquilani a lengthy run-out but, again, he spent his time shuffling up and down the touchline.

Had Benitez not come out afterwards and state emphatically Aquilani will start against Fiorentina on Wednesday, the conspiracy theorists would have had a field day and, in all probability, started asking serious questions.

Benitez attempted to explain last week why Aquilani has hitherto been a spectator, citing that his lack of fitness and match practice could ultimately prove detrimental to both team and player.

Of course, Benitez is right to protect a key asset and given Liverpool’s wretched luck with injuries this season, the last thing he wants is to pitch Aquilani in and see him either pull up lame or be on the receiving end of a juddering tackle that set him back.

Aquilani’s rehabilitation has clearly been more complicated than many have imagined but does there not come a point when the manager simply has to decide ‘enough is enough’ and he asks the graceful Italian to start making a difference?

Take a glance at the table; Liverpool have not been cut adrift in the race for a top four spot by any means and there is sufficient time for them to retrieve the situation.

That, sadly, is easier said than done and what concerns Liverpool fans most of all now is Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa don’t give the impression they are going to squander too many points.

To make inroads on those sides, Benitez needs to find a place in his team for Aquilani, he craves the return to fitness of Fernando Torres and needs others to take some of the match-winning responsibility off Steven Gerrard’s shoulders.

Liverpool’s talismanic captain did everything he could to mark his 500th appearance in the best possible way.

Unfortunately, his best was not good enough this time and Blackburn – for whom Ryan Nelson and Christopher Samba were outstanding – thoroughly deserved their point.

A Blackburn victory would, inevitably, have made bigger headlines and left those in charge at Match of the Day with a headache, as a ‘shock’ always demands a chunkier segment of the programme.

If Liverpool are to claim that place in the running order to which they are more accustomed, it is imperative they buck their ideas up; if they don’t, the end of season DVD risks being turned into a video nasty.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

Final score Blackburn Rovers 0 – 0
(HT 0 – 0)
Bookings Diouf 56

Blackburn Rovers's Percentage Liverpool's Percentage
Corners 1
11% 8

Goal attempts 9
64% 5

On target 2
50% 2

Fouls 15
60% 10

Offside 4
66% 2

Blackburn Rovers Paul Robinson, Christopher Samba, Gael Givet, Ryan Nelsen, Brett Emerton, Pascal Chimbonda, Vince Grella, Steven N'Zonzi, El Hadji Diouf (David Hoilett, 72), Benni McCarthy (Nikola Kalinic, 77), Franco di Santo (Keith Andrews, 85)

Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Emiliano Insua, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Albert Riera (David N'Gog, 52), Yossi Benayoun (Nabil El Zhar, 73), Javier Mascherano, Lucas Leiva, Dirk Kuyt

Referee Atkinson, M
Venue Ewood Park
Attendance 29,660

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