In an instantly forgettable contest, Liverpool were the better side but, once again, lacked any sense of cutting edge in front of goal. As a result, all they could manage was a point, which, when combined with Man City’s last gasp 3-2 win over Liverpool’s FA Cup conquerors Aston Villa, leaves the Reds seven points off fourth, rendering Champions League qualification unfeasible.
Mario Balotelli made his first start since February following his decent cameo display against Villa, while Jordon Ibe, returning from injury, was also in the starting eleven as Liverpool looked to provide their supporters some cheer following a trying few weeks. Unfortunately, they didn’t deliver, as a dreary first 45 minutes was followed by only a marginally better second half.
With the pace, tempo and feel of an end-of-season dead rubber, the first half was dire from the moment referee Roger East blew his whistle to start the match.
Only two events worth nothing occurred. First, just before the half hour mark, Steven Gerrard, making his 500th League appearance for Liverpool, curled a free kick over the bar from the edge of the box. Then, five minutes later, Balotelli blasted a volleyed strike just over the bar.
|Gerrard curled a free kick over the bar|
The second half was slightly more tolerable, but still far from an entertaining watch. The best goalscoring opportunity for Liverpool came ten minutes after the restart when a combination of poor finishing and last ditch defending prevented them breaking the deadlock three times in quick succession.
Balotelli swivelled and shot in the box, only for his effort to be blocked by McAuley. The ball fell to Coutinho, whose weak strike was parried away by Boaz Myhill, but only as far as Henderson, who tried to turn home the rebound but saw his shot blocked in the goalmouth.
Ibe then blasted against the bar after playing a neat one-two with Balotelli and darting into the danger area, as the Merseysiders briefly threatened. They remained vulnerable at the back, though, and West Brom seemed to respond, Gardner shooting into the side-netting before Skrtel made a mess of cutting out a cross, forcing Lovren to make a goalline clearance to stop Morrison’s header crossing the line.
|Gardner shot into the side netting|
With 15 minutes left, Lallana returned to action, replacing Ibe, while Borini was brought on in place of Balotelli, which was frustrating as Rodgers really should have gone with two up front at that stage to try and force the issue.
As it transpired, Liverpool only had one more chance, Coutinho’s strike from 20 yards landing on the roof of the net, while West Brom also could have nicked an undeserved winner in the closing stages as Mignolet was called upon to save from Callum McManaman at his near post after the 24-year old former Wigan winger skipped past the off-form Skrtel.
At the end of the day, though, everyone was pleased when the final whistle was blown; West Brom, because a point represented a good result from them, and Liverpool because it brought to a close a rubbish afternoon that they’d very much like to quickly forget.
At a stretch, maybe we can be pleased with the Reds keeping their 14th clean sheet of the campaign, but Rodgers’ description of Liverpool’s performance as ‘outstanding’ stretched the limits of credulity. Yes, his team had three-quarters of possession and 22 shots, but only a pathetic five of them were on target, and, when you want to be challenging for the Champions League, that’s just not good enough.
What is particularly annoying is the fact that events yesterday could have quite easily put Liverpool back in the fight for fourth had they taken a different turn. Had Liverpool taken their chances and beaten West Brom and had Villa held on for a few extra minutes at the Etihad, then the gap between the teams would have narrowed to a still considerable, but certainly not insurmountable, five points.
|Lovren and his teammates are dejected on the final whistle|