Reds play safe in Birmingham draw

Fernando Torres taken off as Liverpool fall further behind in race for fourth spot.

    Liam Ridgewell scores past Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina [GALLO/GETTY]

    Liverpool slipped further behind in their quest for European Champions League football with a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City.

    Steven Gerrard had fired his first goal in nine games just after the break at St Andrew's but Liam Ridgewell equalised just after.

    It leaves the Reds four points behind Manchester City, who occupy the fourth Champions League spot in the English Premier League, and having played a game more than Roberto Mancini's team.

    In London, Liverpool's fellow Europa League quarter-finalists Fulham beat Wigan Athletic 2-1 to keep the Latics in relegation trouble.

    And the Reds' city rivals Everton drew 2-2 at home to West Ham United in a rollercoaster match at Goodison Park as West Ham ended a run of six defeats.

    Torres brought off

    Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez opted to substitute Spain striker Fernando Torres for David Ngog 25 minutes before full-time in an attempt to save the legs of the Spanish international ahead of Thursday's Europa League second leg against Benfica.

    For all Benitez's promises of a fourth place finish and Torres's  assertion they needed to win their remaining six games, the lack of urgency in Liverpool's first half performance was alarming.

    EPL results

    Saturday April 3

     Man Utd 1-2 Chelsea
     Arsenal 1-0 Wolves
     Bolton 0-1 Aston Villa
     Portsmouth 0-0 Blackburn
     Stoke City 2-0 Hull City
     Sunderland 3-1 Tottenham
     Burnley 1-6 Man City

    Sunday April 4

    Birmingham 1-1 Liverpool
     Fulham 2-1 Wigan Athletic
     Everton 2-2 West Ham

    Benitez's decision to play two holding midfielders was cautious in the extreme and they will surely have to be more adventurous to achieve the bare minimum of Champions League qualification.

    Ninth-placed Birmingham had already deprived Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City of points at St Andrews, so it was hardly surprising to see Liverpool struggle to break down the home side's defence.

    Maxi Rodriguez will take some time to work out how he did not register his first Liverpool goal at the end of an incisive move begun by Pepe Reina's throw out to Dirk Kuyt.

    Yossi Benayoun and Torres combined to set up the Argentine's volley from six yards, but somehow keeper Joe Hart managed to push the shot up onto the bar and away to safety.

    That was as exciting as it got in the first 45, but the game burst into life with two goals in nine second half minutes.

    Gerrard is the first to admit his form has been far from the high levels he sets himself this season and the fact that his 47th minute intervention was only his second league goal in 2010 underlines his concerns.

    There was more than a hint of good fortune in the way Glen Johnson's attempted shot from the edge of the area found its way to Gerrard after the England international's corner had been headed clear by Stephen Carr.


    There was nothing remotely fortunate about the way Gerrard wrong-footed Lee Bowyer and produced devastating power in his right boot to defeat Hart from an acute angle.

    But Gerrard's hard work was undone by dreadful defending with no one within five yards of Ridgewell as he bundled in James McFadden's cross at the far post in the 56th minute.

    Bowyer could have won it for Birmingham, but contrived to miss from six yards when unmarked at the far post and Ngog could easily have finished with two goals of his own.

    Rodriguez's pass set up Ngog, who shot wide from 15 yards and in stoppage time the Frenchman missed from closer range after Gerrard's long diagonal pass.

    At Craven Cottage, Jason Scotland put Wigan in front but Fulham, who rested leading striker Bobby Zamora, replied through Stefano Okaka and Brede Hangeland.

    Wigan are four points above third from bottom Hull City having played a game more.

    In Liverpool, Everton went ahead through Diniyar Bilyaletdinov before Manuel da Costa levelled in the second half after Mido had missed a penalty for the Londoners.

    Yakubu headed Everton into the lead late on before Araujo Ilan equalised again less than two minutes later.

    The result takes Gianfranco Zola's West Ham within three points of 16th-placed Wigan while Everton stay four points behind sixth-placed Aston Villa.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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