x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Allardyce left in good heart after spirited draw

Blackburn made the brighter start in their pursuit of mid-table safety after holding Liverpool to a goalless affair.

BLACKBURN // Rovers manager Sam Allardyce had to watch the game from the stands as he recovers from minor coronary surgery, and there was little on the pitch to upset his heart rate. His counterpart Rafa Benitez, however, is likely to be having palpitations as his Liverpool side were held to a goalless draw by a spirited Blackburn. Fernando Torres was again missing for Liverpool with a groin injury, while Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera returned in place of David Ngog and Fabio Aurelio.

Blackburn made the brighter start in their pursuit of mid-table safety. Benni McCarthy was at the centre of most of the early attacks as Blackburn looked to build on their Carling Cup quarter-final win over Chelsea in midweek. It was Liverpool though who had the first shot on goal through Steven Gerrard, but the Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen blocked his speculative 20-yard strike. There was little else for the large away following to cheer though as they struggled to break down Allardyce's men, who went into the game on the back of an eight-match unbeaten run at Ewood Park.

Rovers' defender Chris Samba glanced Paul Robinson's huge clearance into Pepe Reina's arms on 36 minutes, before Gerrard saw a side-footed strike deflected wide a minute later as the visitors broke quickly through Benayoun. Glen Johnson, powering forward down the right at every opportunity, and the tireless Gerrard, making his 500th appearance for the club, were doing their best to inspire the Reds but the final ball was constantly lacking as Rovers comfortably held them at bay.

As the half faded away, Liverpool did finally start to dominate possession but as the whistle for the break sounded, goalkeeper Robinson and his opposite number Reina remained untested. After the break, Rovers created a golden opportunity to break the deadlock as Liverpool came out for the second half sluggishly. McCarthy's flick played Franco Di Santo through on goal on 49 minutes but as he hesitated the recovering Jamie Carragher crowded him out and the Argentine wasted the opportunity.

The former Liverpool midfielder El-Hadji Diouf then raced clear of Liverpool's defence but could only shoot wide. Stunned into action, Liverpool poured forward and were inches from an opening goal when Gerrard's dipping 25-yard strike beat Robinson but just went over the cross bar. The England midfielder was left shouting for a penalty on 55 minutes, as he tumbled over Steven Nzonzi's outstretched foot, but the referee Mike Atkinson waved play on, and Dirk Kuyt's shot as the ball ran loose was blocked.

In an entertaining half, Rovers refused to be bowed and almost took the lead against the run of play through Di Santo's low shot across goal, which was smothered by Reina. Robinson then brilliantly pushed Kuyt's shot over the bar after Ngog had hit the bar from just five yards on 72 minutes. Gerrard then saw his shot deflected but, as they pushed for the winner, Rovers had their chances to win the game with Nikola Kalinic stabbing the ball wide.