x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Benitez piles on misery for Ince

Goals from Xabi Alonso, Yossi Benayoun and Steven Gerrard heaped more pressure on the underfire Blackburn manager Paul Ince.

Xabi Alonso celebrates his goal for Liverpool.
Xabi Alonso celebrates his goal for Liverpool.

Goals from Xabi Alonso, Yossi Benayoun and Steven Gerrard heaped more pressure on the underfire Blackburn manager Paul Ince. Although Roque Santa Cruz pulled a goal back for the home side, it was too little too late for the former Anfield player Ince, who is rumoured to be the next Premier League manager in line for the chop with Blackburn languishing in the bottom three.

Liverpool had lacked a cutting edge in front of goal early on against the strugglers. Rafa Benitez's men went top of the league on Monday despite a goalless draw with West Ham, which followed a similar stalemate against Fulham. A third 0-0 draw beckoned despite a shakeup in Liverpool's forward line, with Robbie Keane dropped to the bench and Ryan Babel joining Dirk Kuyt up front in the absence of the injured Fernando Torres.

Liverpool had the majority of possession in a first-half dominated by midfield play, but lacked the final touch. Benayoun had Liverpool's best chance, after being released by Gerrard, going clear in front of goal in the 19th minute before being stopped by a last-ditch clearance by ex-Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock. Gerrard also had a chance in the 42nd but scuffed his shot wide. Blackburn midfielder Morten Gamst Pedersen had the best opportunity of the half, with Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina needing to push a long-range shot onto the cross bar in the 29th.

A bounce in Pedersen's free kick in the 37th also nearly got the better of Reina. Blackburn had lost their previous four games and had not won in their previous nine Premier League matches.. The English media has been speculating that Ince will soon join former Manchester United teammate Roy Keane as a managerial casualty, with Graeme Souness and Sam Allardyce tipped as possible replacements. Fans called for Ince to be fired during Blackburn's 5-3 loss to Manchester United in the League Cup on Wednesday but similar chants were absent among the home crowd and the team were applauded off the pitch at half-time.

Blackburn have half as many points as they did at this stage last season, after picking up only three from the last 27 on offer. Pedersen had another chance immediately at the start of the second half, but it was blocked by Jamie Carragher. In a livelier exchange, Alonso took a cross from Emiliano Insua, making his league debut, and his resulting shot bounced off the chest of the Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson in the 56th.

Benayoun then twice tried to send in a rebound after Robinson had blocked a shot by Gerrard, but luck seemed to be with Blackburn. But, as is often the case, the inspirational captain Gerrard was pivotal to breaking the deadlock. He cross fell to Alonso, who sidefooted home from just inside the area. Then Benayoun went round Warnock with embarrassing ease and shot across Robinson and into the far corner from a tight angle.

Andre Ooijer helped give Blackburn hope when he flicked on Keith Andrews' cross and Santa Cruz was at the far post to head home. But Gerrard had the last word in injury time, scoring into an empty net after Robinson had run out to block another attempt. krudzki@thenational.ae