Andy Carroll netted a late winner for Liverpool in a fascinating league tie at Ewood Park in near-perfect preparation for their FA Cup semi-final tie on Saturday with Everton at Wembley.
Prior to the stoppage time winner, Blackburn had battled back from a two-goal deficit thanks to an early four-minute brace from Maxi Rodriguez before two goals from Yakubu pulled the gap back. Yakubu netted a penalty to equalise on the hour after having a first half penalty saved by substitute goalkeeper Brad Jones after Alexander Doni was sent off after conceding a penalty on 25 minutes. Kenny Dalglish named a hugely changed side going into the FA Cup semi-final against Everton on Saturday, leaving at big names such as Steven Gerrard out of the squad whilst Luis Suarez only made the bench with the likes of Flanagan, Shelvey and Bellamy starting the match.
Blackburn were fighting for their lives and Kenny Dalglish, ex-Premier League winning manager at Ewood Park, had only recorded one win out of their four away matches against the bottom five. The home side were without the suspended Anthony Modeste with Alexander Doni still deputising for Pepe Reina in goal for Liverpool.
With Liverpool’s European fate already sealed through the Carling Cup path, it was a matter of closing out the league season with a possibility of ending the week in 12th position. Dalglish was looking to end a run of 2 wins in 10 matches with Blackburn coming into the match in better league form than their counterparts. Blackburn had made most of the early running and created the opening chance with Steven N’Zonzi’s free kick curling over Doni’s crossbar. However, this early domination was quickly undone by two goals in four minutes from Maxi Rodriguez.
Ironically, the Argentine midfielder had broken the deadlock on the counter attack after Martin Skrtel played a 60-yard ball upfield to Craig Bellamy who in turn fed Maxi in for what was an open net chance easily converted. Just moments later, Rodriguez couldn’t believe his luck as he was presented with a second open net on 16 minutes. Jonjo Shelvey and eventual match-winner Andy Carroll had previously had their shots blocked and saved and the ball subsequently fell to Maxi and all he had to do was poke the ball goal bound to double the lead in which Liverpool held over the relegation battlers.
Liverpool were soon thanking their lucky stars that young full-back Jon Flanagan wasn’t sent off. Flanagan had already booked and flew in with a late challenge on Junior Hoilett, fortunately for Liverpool, Anthony Taylor, the referee found sympathy for his early booking and decided not to punish the defender.
Soon enough, karma had struck Flanagan and Liverpool square in the face. On 25 minutes it was Flanagan’s timid back pass which Junior Hoilett latched onto and coaxed a foul out of Alexander Doni in the penalty area. Just five years to the day of letting in seven at Old Trafford, Doni found himself sent off in just his second Liverpool appearance.
Instead of looking forward to an FA Cup semi-final against Everton at Wembley on Sunday, the Brazilian goalkeeper would be in the stands as Australian goalkeeper and third choice, Brad Jones took up Doni’s mantle. Jones, who hasn’t played a minute in two years and not since the tragic death of his five-year old son made easy work of a tame penalty from Yakubu, almost celebrating with the travelling fans after collecting the ball.
The pendulum soon swung in the favour of the home side once again when Yakubu made no mistake in converting a David Dunn free kick. The Nigerian striker found himself unmarked and with Brad Jones stranded, Yakubu simply glanced a header home and had the home side within touching distance of the FA Cup semi-finalists.
Blackburn were pressuring Liverpool, almost camping in their half as the first period ended but after half-time oranges and probably a loud word in the Liverpool players’ ears from Dalglish, they were rejuvenated. Andy Carroll looked to have spurned the perfect chance to wrap the game up early on in the second half.
The lanky England forward saw his six-yard diving header fly wastefully wide of the mark. Through sheer persistence, however, Yakubu earned himself a second penalty and Liverpool were fearing the worst. Brad Jones’ attempted clearance was blocked by Yakubu and the spin on the ball fooled the Australian goalie and Jones’ push on Yakubu saw the Nigerian floored.
This left Anthony Taylor with a dilemma. Would he send off a second Liverpool goalkeeper and a fourth player in 15 Premier League games he had officiated in the season? Instead, Taylor took up a lenient approach, only booking the Australian. Had Taylor sent Jones off, they would be left with no goalkeeper for the final half hour and presumably a youth keeper for the semi-final on Saturday.
Yakubu bravely stood up, converted the penalty in the same manner and pace in which his first was saved as Blackburn had equalised. They now smelled Liverpool blood. The closest Andy Carroll came to netting a goal came 10 minutes from time when his defensive header forced Jones into conceding a corner.
However, the tables soon turned when Dan Agger glanced on a header for Carroll to attack, powering through Robinson and into the net, undoing all of Blackburn’s hard work and pressure to go into the weekend semi-final in winning ways, but still the one point behind Everton.
Blackburn: Robinson, Martin Olsson, Dann, Orr, Haley, Formica (Rochina 73), N’Zonzi, Dunn (Lowe 75), Marcus Olsson, Hoilett, Yakubu
Subs Not Used: Kean, Givet, Pedersen, Petrovic, Goodwillie
Booked: Orr, Hoilett, Formica, Hanley
Scored: Yakubu 36’, 61’ pen
Liverpool: Doni, Flanagan (Jones 26), Skrtel, Coates, Johnson (Agger 53), Henderson, Spearing, Shelvey, Maxi Rodriguez (Enrique 77), Bellamy, Carroll
Subs Not Used: Aurelio, Suarez, Kuyt, Carragher
Booked: Flanagan, Maxi Rodriguez, Jones, Bellamy, Henderson
Sent Off: Doni
Scored: Maxi Rodriguez 13, 16, Carroll 90+1
Referee: Anthony Taylor