Liverpool 2 – 2 Birmingham
By Mandeep Sanghera
A controversial penalty by Steven Gerrard salvaged a draw for Liverpool as their faltering season continued against Birmingham at Anfield.
Gerrard scored from the spot to make it 2-2 after David Ngog had appeared to dive over a Lee Carsely tackle.
Ngog had earlier put the Reds ahead when he smashed in a far-post volley but Christian Benitez levelled when he nodded in a well-worked set piece.
Cameron Jerome’s 30-yard strike shocked the Reds before Gerrard’s equaliser.
Birmingham were angered by referee Peter Walton’s penalty decision given as Carsley did not seem to make any contact with Ngog.
But despite a half-fit Gerrard, who had only come on because of an injury to Albert Riera, slotting in from 12 yards the result will only heap further pressure on Reds manager Rafael Benitez.
It was a game Liverpool were expected to win to quell the unrest at Anfield but, instead, leaves the Reds flailing in seventh in the Premier League.
Liverpool’s defensive solidity has been their strength during Benitez’s reign but the foundations he has laid have been on rocky ground this season and again undermined their play.
The home side had taken a patient and calm approach to the match before gradually raising the tempo and taking the lead.
Glen Johnson was having plenty of joy down the right flank and, after weaving between two defenders, he pulled the ball back for Ngog, whose initial shot was saved by Joe Hart.
Hart scampered across his goal to fend away Dirk Kuyt’s follow-up but the Blues keeper had no chance when Riera crossed to the far post for Ngog to smash a left-foot volley into the roof of the net.
The Reds were in control, only to let their weakness in defence allow the visitors back into a game they rarely looked like making an impact on.
Jerome celebrates his spectacular goal against Liverpool
Former Everton midfielder James McFadden swung a Blues free-kick to the far post and, after being headed on by Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, Christian Benitez nodded in from close range.
The goal gave Birmingham encouragement and the visitors had an extra air of belief about them as they repelled some concerted Liverpool pressure with the home side looking to re-establish their grip on the game.
Hart tipped over a 25-yard strike from Javier Mascherano before the Blues defence cleared a tamely-struck Lucas Leiva side-footed shot off the line.
Liverpool brought Gerrard on when Riera went off with a hamstring problem but their unfit captain could do little as the visitors took the lead in spectacular fashion.
Jerome controlled Dann’s headed ball forward, fended off the irritation of Mascherano and unleashed a thunderous shot which dipped over keeper Reina.
The Reds piled on the pressure in response and it almost paid off, only for Gerrard to head a Johnson cross against the outside of the post from eight yards.
Birmingham defended in numbers with an admirable bravery which saw the particularly impressive centre-backs Dann and Roger Johnson flinging their bodies at crosses and shots to keep the home side at bay.
However, they conceded an equaliser in controversial circumstances as Gerrard, who looked a constant threat even when nursing his groin injury, sent Hart the wrong way from the spot.
The Anfield crowd were now staunchly behind their team and Ngog side-footed wide after Gerrard powered in a cross to the near post in an exciting finale.
However, a winner eluded the Reds and Benitez is still without a league victory over Birmingham in seven attempts.