Liverpool will have to face off against Blackburn Rovers again after the Championship outfit held them to a dreary goalless draw at Anfield in the FA Cup quarter final on Sunday afternoon.
Despite dominating- the Reds enjoyed 70% of possession and had 21 shots- Liverpool lacked a cutting edge in front of goal- only 4 of their shots were on target- and therefore struggled to break down Gary Bowyer’s well drilled defence, whose performance deserved a replay at Ewood Park.
Rodgers made two changes to the team that beat Burnley comprehensively in midweek, Johnson coming in for Allen, who was strangely left out altogether despite a recent upturn in form, and Markovic replacing Moreno.
Unfortunately, he was forced into making a substitution after only three minutes, as Skrtel was stretchered off the pitch following an aerial collision with Rovers’ Rudy Gestede that left the Slovakian briefly unconscious.
|The players and ref call for medical assistance as Skrtel lies flat out|
It looked like a nasty clash and it must have been to keep the tough-as-nails Skrtel lying on the ground motionless for over five minutes, but the number 37 giving the crowd the thumbs up as he was stretchered off was an encouraging sign and, based on reports, he now seems to be OK and should be ready to face Swansea next Monday.
Kolo Toure came on in his place, leaving Liverpool with an unusual back three composed of the Ivorian, Lovren and Johnson. As a result, they appeared far more vulnerable and suspect to breaks from Blackburn.
Mignolet also appeared vulnerable as he worryingly flapped at a free kick into the box on 12 minutes but, to the Belgian’s relief, Gestede’s header dropped wide. At the other end, a brilliant tackle in the box from Blackburn captain Matt Kilgallon denied Lallana as he was about to pull the trigger, Coutinho curled a couple of efforts into the Kop and Toure turned home from an offside position after the ball fell to him in the box, but the hosts’ remained frustrated by the resolute Rovers.
Sturridge’s strike at the end of eight minutes of injury time couldn’t break the deadlock, either, and so the Merseysiders went in at the break knowing that they needed to perform much better and to finally find the back of the net to avoid an exhausting additional fixture in the form of a Cup replay. Frustratingly, that improvement failed to materialise.
In fact, six minutes after the restart Mignolet was required to produce a phenomenal save to prevent Rovers taking a shock lead. Baptiste’s header from a right wing corner was heading into the top right corner before Mignolet barged Lallana out of the way and superbly tipped over the bar.
|Mignolet's great save was the moment of the match|
That was pretty much the visitors’ last sight of goal, as Liverpool were in the ascendancy during the rest of the second period, enjoying 89% of possession for one five minute spell, but failed to produce the moment of magic or enjoy a slice of good fortune that would have won the match for them.
Just before the hour mark, Sturridge was pulled back by Kilgallon in the box as he tried to latch on to Sterling’s through ball, but referee Andre Marriner gave nothing. To be fair, it would have been harsh as it looked like the England striker went down easily because he knew he was unlikely to reach the ball with goalkeeper Eastwood rushing out to collect.
Toure then headed onto the post, before the arrival of Mario Balotelli added a little something extra to Liverpool’s attack. The Italian maverick may not have been at his mercurial best, but he certainly had more of an impact than the man he replaced, as Markovic was largely anonymous.
Balotelli saw one shot fly into the stands, while another was comfortably held by Eastwood, but his best moment came when he set up his teammate Daniel Sturridge. He picked the ball up and fed a lovely volleyed ball over Rovers’ defence for Sturridge to run on to, but unfortunately he volleyed off target.
Ultimately, it just seemed destined to be one of those days. For all their dominance, Liverpool looked leggy following a congested fixture schedule and couldn’t quite unlock Blackburn’s defence. However, the away side did nothing to suggest that the Reds should fear travelling to Ewood Park for a replay.
|This goal remains firmly in the Reds' sights|
It may be an irritating inconvenience, but Liverpool should be confident that they’ll come through the replay and reach the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium. They should also be thankful that this slip up came in the Cup, not in the League, as a goalless draw at home to a ‘lesser’ side like Blackburn in the League would be a far worse setback that couldn’t be rectified with a replay.