Liverpool title bid still derailed

Andy Cole struck a superb late equaliser as Liverpool failed to get their faltering title bid back on track at Anfield today.

Liverpool 1 Blackburn 1

Andy Cole struck a superb late equaliser as Liverpool failed to get their faltering title bid back on track at Anfield today.

Cole volleyed home unerringly after 77 minutes to cancel out John Arne Riise’s first-half opener.

The goal condemned the Reds to their worst run of results since being relegated from the top flight in 1954. Since topping the table in November they have now gone eight Premiership games without a win, collecting just three points from 24.

It was another story of missed chances for Liverpool, with Michael Owen and Milan Baros both going close to winning the game in the closing minutes.

Yet Rovers deserved their point, with Cole having spurned two earlier good chances.

Liverpool started with a fully-fit Emile Heskey restored to his favoured position alongside Owen up front.

Manager Gerard Houllier also hoped to relieve the pressure by utilising Vladimir Smicer from the start in the continued absence of the injured Dietmar Hamann.

Opposite number Graeme Souness, a man familiar with the pressures of playing and managing at Anfield, took his Rovers side into the game on a high after victory over Manchester United.

The Scot was also able to call upon another former Liverpool midfielder in David Thompson, who was available again after suspension.

Thompson came in for David Dunn with another ex-Liverpool player in Brad Friedel taking his place between the posts.

Liverpool knew the importance of getting a result andcertainly began as if they meant business.

Owen had started well with with a break from halfway in the second minute but the move broke down when Danny Murphy’s ball failed to find Heskey.

The first attempt on goal came a minute later when Riise found space on the left and unleashed a fierce shot from outside the area but Friedel pushed the ball wide.

Heskey also threatened but was narrowly beaten by Friedel in the race to a penetrative pass from Murphy.

The Reds’ reward for their bright start came after 16 minutes when Owen raced onto a Murphy pass to put Riise away down the left.

The Norwegian charged into the area and struck a fierce shot that looped over Friedel with the aid of a deflection.

Prior to that the visitors had enjoyed little possession but they did not allow the goal to affect their composure as they began to build some attacks.

Their first genuine attempt came in the 24th minute when Cole combined with Dwight Yorke in the area but his shot was blocked by Sami Hyypia.

The Liverpool wall also did its job to twice block Thompson shots after Rovers were awarded a free-kick for a foul on Dwight Yorke by Stephane Henchoz.

Thompson also caused real alarm when he broke clear after 31 minutes but hit a powerful shot wide of Chris Kirkland’s goal.

But it was still Liverpool who looked the more threatening with Riise doing brilliantly to control a long ball from Gerrard but Rovers escaped with a corner.

Blackburn however finished the first half strongly and went close when a Thompson shot bobbled through the area and was deflected wide.

Liverpool had the first opportunity after the break when Owen broke clear after 51 minutes.

The England striker raced away from the Rovers defence but chose to shoot low across Friedel’s goal instead of squaring for the unmarked Riise.

The ball ran way for a goal-kick with Friedel untroubled.

The Reds were almost made to pay for the miss as Cole missed two clear-cut chances to equalise moments later.

Egil Ostenstad, fresh from coming off the bench for Nils-Eric Johansson, wriggled free down the right and pulled back for Cole in space but he skied his shot into the Kop. He then headed over as Martin Taylor quickly recovered possession and crossed dangerously.

Liverpool also made a substitution as Baros replaced Heskey and the Czech was immediately in the action.

Owen did well to find his new partner who managed to get a shot in from an awkward angle that was deflected for a corner.

Owen himself almost created a shooting chance but lost the ball under his feet and Craig Short recovered the situation.

The game started to open up and Ostenstad found himself unmarked in the Liverpool area but shot straight at Kirkland.

Houllier decided to throw Igor Biscan into the fray for Smicer after 65 minutes and the Croat also went close to scoring.

Biscan did well to control a long pass from Hyypia and had two attempts at shooting before the ball went narrowly wide.

But Rovers were never out of the game and Cole made up for his earlier misses with an outstanding 77th-minute equaliser.

Henchoz’s headed clearance bounced perfectly in front of the Rovers striker outside the area and he instinctively unleashed a powerful volley that flew past Kirkland.

Liverpool were clearly rocked by yet another setback but should have bounced back to win the game.

The had two clear chances to reclaim the points late on, the first being when Owen combined well with Baros five minutes from time.

Baros looked set to score as he moved in on goal down the right but Friedel did superby to smother the ball.

Owen had an even better chance in injury-time following a tenacious run by Riise. The Norwegian wriggled free down the left of the area but Owen stumbled trying to connect with his low pass. Friedel saved and another game had got away.

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