x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pepe Reina, the man with the golden gloves

As Liverpool ground out a stalemate at St Andrew's, there were times when the last line of defence resembled the only line of defence.

Pepe Reina pulls off another stunning save to keep Birmingham City at bay as Liverpool left St Andrew's with a point yesterday.
Pepe Reina pulls off another stunning save to keep Birmingham City at bay as Liverpool left St Andrew's with a point yesterday.

The Golden Glove is one of football's stranger awards, both in its image - is it really something to display on the mantelpiece? - and its concept. Goalkeepers can be rewarded for the deeds of others but, should Pepe Reina claim that particular trophy for a fifth time this season, he can mark this down as a clean sheet that was very much his own work. As Liverpool ground out a stalemate at St Andrew's, there were times when the last line of defence resembled the only line of defence. Draws at Birmingham City, who have not lost at home for 50 weeks, can safely be called a good point, but this was one earned principally by the agility and ability of one man: Reina.

Errors against Arsenal and Argentina have made this an uncharacteristically poor start to the season from the Spaniard, but he remains a class act. Yesterday Liverpool's reigning Player of the Year provided a reminder why he is held in such high esteem at Anfield and, it appears, elsewhere. "He's a great goalkeeper," said Alex McLeish, whose Birmingham side were denied a place in the top four by Reina. "He was outstanding today."

"We knew that, especially after international week where we don't see the players for 10 days, this was going to be a very tough encounter," said Roy Hodgson. "But I am more than satisfied with the way we went about our business and with the fact we go away unbeaten." Given Birmingham's home record, that ranks as an achievement of sorts but Liverpool have now won only one of their last 11 away league games. While they improved in the closing stages, theirs was a disjointed display, with Lucas and Christian Poulsen forming an unconvincing partnership in the centre of midfield.

With a more conspicuous hunger and greater energy, Craig Gardner and Barry Ferguson swiftly wrestled control of that department. They provide the platform and others built upon it. There was ample proof of Birmingham's threat from the crossed ball and plenty of evidence of the quality of delivery from Sebastian Larsson and Lee Bowyer. Each was involved as Reina was overworked. At full stretch, the Spaniard pushed Cameron Jerome's well-judged header past the post. It was a remarkable stop, the ball seemingly arrowing away from the Liverpool keeper before he extended an arm.

"I feared the worst," added Hodgson. "He's a very lithe and very agile goalkeeper so he does get down very quickly. He made two very good saves." Jerome's bulk and presence made him an awkward proposition as a sole striker. Reina flung himself in the forward's way to punch away a Larsson cross when the Birmingham man seemed likelier to score. A hat-trick of rescue acts was completed when he dived to turn away Craig Gardner's header, with the influential Larsson again the supplier.

Birmingham had further opportunities, with neither Scott Dann nor Jerome able to hit the target. "It was great to see the players getting into those positions," said McLeish. "The performance level of the whole team was outstanding. The players were magnificent." Indeed, from Jerome in attack to the defiant duo of Dann and Roger Johnson in defence, he had reasons to extol the character and industry of plenty of his charges.

"We restricted Liverpool to hardly any chances at all," he added. Indeed, they had only two efforts of note, both from Fernando Torres. A ferocious shot, struck from an acute angle, was parried by Ben Foster and, after a long and winding run, a slower shot was held by the Birmingham keeper. The striker's body language indicated he was frustrated, but his manager was unworried by the striker's state of mind as his quest for match sharpness continues.

"I'm not at all concerned about Fernando Torres," said Hodgson. "He will get better and better as the season goes on." So, he must hope, will Liverpool. Otherwise Reina will continue to be busy. sports@thenational.ae