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Rovers 2 Liverpool 2.


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Match Report by Scotty

I was surprised by today's team. Switching back to 4-4-2, dropping Gray and Matteo (for McEveley and Johansson), restoring Tugay (for Flitcroft), bringing in Bothroyd (for Djorkaeff) - all very interesting, yet my first thought was to worry about the lack of a ball winner in midfield. And for ten minutes or so all my worries were fully justified.

Liverpool bossed the opening exchanges with Baros looking lively and Liverpool's midfield overwhelming ours - they could have scored twice before they did. However, the goal they did score was more down to our shocking defending than any great Liverpool play.

A long ball found Riise in acres of space on the left as our defence pathetically tried to play off-side. Riise ran unopposed towards goal and scored with a sweet finish into the far corner. You could question Friedel's positioning but it was a very well struck shot.

We'd talked in the pub before the game about the importance of the first goal so it was obviously a sickener to see us concede. I think the whole of Ewood sat back and thought it would be a case of how many Liverpool would get.

Hang on a minute though, the team started to fight. They snapped into their tackles, they harrassed their opposite numbers, and they showed a touch of quality on the ball. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves like they had in the last two weeks they started to show some pride and passion. It was no surprise at all when we equalised.

A ball from midfield found Dickov intelligently dropping deep. His turn was terrific and his ball down the left channel to an on-rushing Emerton was exquisite. Emerton's first-time cross was perfectly weighted to find an unmarked Bothroyd - who duely applied the finish. A really great team goal.

Now it was all Rovers. We pressed Liverpool all over the field, gave them no time at all in possession, and frequently caused them to panic in defence. From one such moment, just before the interval, the ball fell to Emerton 20 yards out and he passed the ball into the far corner of the net. A fantastic finish.

2-1 at half-time and well deserved. Before I move onto the second half though a quick word about Cisse. A completely innocuous challenge has left him with two broken bones in his leg and, looking at the pictures on television, I'd say it's got to be doubtful whether he ever plays again. All the best sir, hope you recover soon.

I thought we looked comfortable at the start of the second half. We controlled possession and looked the more threatening side going forward - in fact I couldn't see how Liverpool were going to score. Cue McEveley. What on earth was he doing?

Emerton won a free-kick around half way. McEveley, unbelievably, passed the ball square straight to Garcia, who played a great ball over our non-plussed defence for Baros to run onto. Short is quicker than he looks but he's not as quick as Baros so it was no surprise to see Baros run clear one-on-one with Friedel. What was surprising though was seeing Friedel rooted to his line to the point where Baros eventually scored from no more than five yards out. Close him down man.

Anyway, in a game that ebbed and flowed throughout, now it was Liverpool's turn to be on top. For the next ten minutes they controlled the game and looked like they might force a winner. For the second time I thought it was almost inevitable that Liverpool would go on and win the game comfortably.

But no, back we came again. Stead replaced Bothroyd, not sure why because I thought Bothroyd had done well, and the Rovers started to get back on top. Short had a header cleared off the line, a well-worked free-kick saw Dickov produce a great save from Kirkland, and Stead had a terrific shot again well saved by Kirkland. With ten minutes to go it seemed there was only going to be one winner, and it wasn't the team in red.

I'm not sure if it was our lack of fitness or something psychological but we seemed to sit back at the end. Liverpool sensed this and they started to push for the winner at the death. Fortunately though, after a number of corners and crosses across our box, we survived and got a precious point.

Most of the team were terrific today. Short and Johansson looked as solid as any centre-back pairing we've fielded this season. McEveley was solid defensively apart from the one glaring mistake. He doesn't offer as much going forward as Gray but he's a better defender on today's evidence.

Tugay and Ferguson in midfield worked their socks off and Ferguson in particular was class at times on the ball. I'm used to Tugay's inconsistency now but it really annoys me that Ferguson doesn't play like he did today every week. And while the two of them aren't the most competitive in midfield we can cope when were at home because they have Reid to cover for them. Reid was great again, he's been one of our best players in all three games since he came back into the team, and today his workrate, tenacity, and commitment were second to none. Reid was the one player I saw trying to lift the team immediately after Liverpool's equaliser. I'm starting to really rate him.

Dickov worked tirelessly as ever and showed touches of quality at times, and Bothroyd on occasions looked like the centre-forward we've been missing since Jansen's accident. Stead came on and showed terrific desire. He really wants that shirt and it's great to see.

Special mention for Emerton though - he was magnificent today. He ran at their full-back constantly, showed great pace, his workrate was fantastic, and his finish for the goal was top quality. Our man of the match by a mile.

Negatives? Friedel was dodgy for both goals, especially the second. But his performance was nothing compared to Neill's. What on earth does Neill have to do to be dropped? He gives us nothing going forward, he can't pass, his heading is awful, his positional sense is just scary, and at times he looks like he simply can't be arsed. I don't just want him dropped - I want him to be punished. It was like he was single-handedly trying to lose us the game today.

All in all it was a good point today, we'd have all settled for that before hand, but we could easily have got all three. I worry whether today's team is solid enough to play away from home, only time will tell, but at home it looks like we can sacrifice a bit of bite in midfield for some extra creativity going forward.

All our excuses have been used up now though. We've finished our hard run of games and the next few fixtures are against teams who will finish mid-table or lower. We have to pick up some points quickly but I'm a lot more confident we will than I was this time last week.

Rovers: Friedel, Neill, Short, Johansson, McEveley, Reid, Tugay, Ferguson, Emerton, Dickov, Bothroyd (Stead 65).

Subs Not Used: Flitcroft, Enckelman, Djorkaeff, Todd.

Booked: Tugay, Stead.

Goals: Bothroyd 16, Emerton 45.

Liverpool: Kirkland, Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Finnan (Kewell 55), Hamann (Diao 81), Alonso, Riise, Baros, Cisse (Luis Garcia 38).

Subs Not Used: Dudek, Warnock.

Booked: Josemi.

Goals: Riise 7, Baros 54.

Att: 26,314

Ref: R Styles

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