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Liverpool rescued against Blackburn Rovers by classy Philippe Coutinho


Perfect finish: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho scores his side’s winner against Blackburn Rovers

Perfect finish: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho scores his side’s winner against Blackburn Rovers


Perfect finish: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho scores his side’s winner against Blackburn Rovers

For those who cling to the nostalgia that the FA Cup is the centrepiece of an English season, the "Gerrard Final" is still a going concern.

The notion of Steven Gerrard playing his last game for Liverpool on his 35th birthday at Wembley against, presumably, Arsenal is a marketing man's dream, although the club he captains has made heavy weather of reaching the semi-final.

Only the victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park - which given what they suffered there last season must count as an exorcism of sorts - showed genuine quality.

This was a slog, decided by what Gerrard's replacement as captain, Jordan Henderson, called Philippe Coutinho's "brilliant football brain".

Henderson had much on his own mind, having left the team hotel to be with his wife when she gave birth to their second daughter, returning a few hours before kick-off.

In the passionate surrounds of Ewood Park, a reminder of why Blackburn were once such an integral part of the Premier League, the men from the Championship played an almost perfect tactical game.

It ended with their goalkeeper Simon Eastwood, in the Liverpool area for a Rovers corner, turning to shoot at his opposite number Simon Mignolet who saved superbly.

Mignolet has been the subject of intense scrutiny and it would still be a surprise if he were Liverpool's No 1 next season. However, in the goalless draw at Anfield and now in the replay, he has produced saves that have kept Liverpool's season alive.

Coutinho's superbly taken winner took Liverpool through to their second domestic semi-final of the season but, instead of the menacing shape of Jose Mourinho's Chelsea barring their way over two legs, there is Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday week.

Given that Liverpool is a club that measures success by silverware rather than fourth-placed finishes, they are still on course for a successful season. But Cup fever had taken a while to arrive here in Blackburn. Their fourth-round tie against Swansea had been watched by fewer than 6,000. Less than 14,000 saw Josh King destroy Stoke. Now every ticket had been sold.

The stadium was something it has rarely been during the club's years of decline: loud and raucous, although their taunts to the Liverpool fans that they had "never won the league" suggested most could not imagine football in a time before Sky Sports.

Blackburn had as little chance of making the Championship play-offs as Liverpool did of making the Champions League. For both teams, the FA Cup was the last competition standing.

Had Gary Bowyer had a full-strength team, the Blackburn manager might have really fancied his chances of breaking through a Liverpool defence missing Martin Skrtel and Emre Can. By the time the tie was 27 minutes old, manager Brendan Rodgers (below) was without Mamadou Sakho, who had pulled a hamstring.

Bowyer's tactics were to drive the ball up to Jordan Rhodes' head but only once in the opening 45 minutes did it succeed, only for Rhodes to direct his header into the bank of Liverpool supporters that crammed the Darwen End.

Liverpool had the bulk of possession and the greater number of chances. Only one of them until the goal was dangerous; a low shot from Coutinho that went through a phalanx of legs and was seen late and saved by Eastwood.

It was not until the opening exchanges of the second half that Mignolet was forced into any kind of save.

First was a two-handed block from a fierce drive by Tom Cairney and from the resultant corner he pushed Ben Marshall's header at full stretch on to the post.

Twenty minutes from time, the goal came - and it was from a wonderfully executed strike that followed a beautiful one-two with Henderson.

The angle in front of Coutinho was slim as he advanced into the box before picking his spot in the corner, just a few yards from where the Merseyside supporters were about to break into songs about Wembley.

Blackburn: Eastwood, Henley, Baptiste, Kilgallon, Olsson, Marshall, Evans, Conway, Williamson, Cairney, Rhodes.

Substitutions: Gestede (for Conway 65), Spurr (for Baptiste 80),

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Henderson, Lucas, Allen, Sterling, Sturridge, Coutinho.

Substitutions: K Touré (for Sakho 28), Lambert (for Sturridge 85)

Goals: Coutinho (70)

Man of the match: Coutinho

Possession: Liverpool 68%

Match rating: 6/10

Attendance: 28,415

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)

Belfast Telegraph

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