Belfast Telegraph

McLeish makes his point after Blues falter

Birmingham City 2 Liverpool 2

Having seen his side surrender a 2-0 lead, Birmingham's manager, Alex McLeish, was determined to see the upside. "We knew that it could have been a fantastic result," he said. "But we got a point, and that point could still keep us in the Premier League."

Or maybe those two points lost could keep Birmingham out of the Premier League next season. As the St Andrews faithful filed out at the end of a match which their side had finished in disarray, the announcement that Fulham, one place below them in the relegation zone, had made up ground with a late winner at Manchester City was greeted with a perceptible groan. Birmingham, whose league programme will end with a testing home game against Blackburn, will travel to Fulham for their penultimate match on Saturday. It looks like being the defining challenge of a troubled season.

What pained McLeish in particular was the way in which his flagging team allowed a former Blue, Jermaine Pennant, to cut in from the right past a succession of hasty challenges, before setting up the Peter Crouch goal which brought Liverpool back into the game in the 63rd minute.

Franck Queudrue, the defender who came on as a substitute for Birmingham in the wake of the 76th-minute equaliser scored, with a deflected header, by Yossi Benayoun, made it uncompromisingly clear afterwards that he would not have allowed Pennant to drift past him had he been on the pitch.

"He ran past four players for the first goal," said Queudrue. "We could have brought him down and given away a free-kick. We are in a bad position and we don't need to be pretty. We just need to get some points up. The players are angry and disappointed with themselves."

The picture looked very different after 55 minutes, when Sebastian Larsson's spectacular free-kick doubled a home lead that had been established by Mikael Forssell's smartly-taken goal from a 35th-minute cross by James McFadden.

But Crouch's strike seemed to induce a collective loss of nerve in the home ranks and a visiting side featuring nine changes from the one held to a midweek draw by Chelsea in the home leg of the Champions League semi-final began to take advantage of their relative freshness.

For Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, this occasion ticked all the boxes. Although victory eluded his side, a draw effectively sealed a fourth-place finish, with its guarantee of Champions League involvement next season. And there were no significant injuries.

"Today we needed to change all the players from the Chelsea game and try to keep the high tempo during the games," he said. "With this team, we were creating a lot of chances too so it is pleasing.

"The idea was to win and guarantee fourth place. A draw was also an option and hopefully we can progress in the Champions League now and be really focused on the final if we get there."

Goals: Forssell (35) 1-0; Larsson (55) 2-0; Crouch (63) 2-1; Benayoun (76) 2-2.

Birmingham City (4-4-2) : Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Murphy; Larsson, Muamba, Nafti (Queudrue, 76), Kapo (McSheffrey, 76); McFadden, Forssell (Zarate, 87). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Jerome.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Skrtel, Hyypia, Riise (Insua, 64); Pennant, Leiva, Plessis, Benayoun; Crouch, Voronin. Substitutes not used: Itandje (gk), Carragher, Kuyt, Gerrard.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Birmingham Nafti; Liverpool Voronin.

Man of the match: Larsson.

Attendance: 29,252.

Belfast Telegraph


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