A far-from first-choice Liverpool side came back from two goals down to earn a point against Birmingham today, a comeback inspired by Jermaine Pennant against his old club.
Liverpool are now nine points above Everton in fourth place, with the Reds’ neighbours 15 goals worse off, meaning Liverpool have all-but secured a place in next season’s Champions League Qualifiers. Everton have to win all three of their remaining fixtures and Liverpool have to lose both theirs, and all those matches would have to won and lost by a gap averaging more than three goals each game.
The team Rafa put out was picked with Wednesday night’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea in mind. Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt were unused subs, Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres not even in the 16.
Liverpool’s side had nine changes in all, but Chelsea weren’t afforded the same chance to rest players in their fixture today, where they claimed a late victory over Manchester United in the league.
After the game Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez said: “The team was controlling the game in the first half but we conceded a goal that changed things a bit. The second goal gave them more hope and we needed to score and did so.
“We scored the second goal with a bit of luck but we created enough chances to win. The players showed character and quality.
“The idea was to win and guarantee fourth place. We didn’t achieve that but a draw is another option and puts us in a very strong position. Now we can think about the next game against Chelsea and hopefully we can progress in the Champions League and be really focused in the final.
“I am really pleased with the second-half because I think that the team played much better. To score two goals in the second-half and create the chances we did was very, very positive.
“We started the game controlling things for the first 30 minutes but then we conceded the goal and we couldn’t manage. So at half-time we talked about how we could improve and I think the mentality of the players was positive.
“You must guarantee the Champions League for next season. We are almost sure now in fourth position and so we can think about Chelsea.
“I’d like to finish as high as possible but sometimes this cannot happen and at the end you must be happy with the fourth position and happy if you do well in the Champions League.
“Today we needed to change some players and keep up a high tempo during the game. We also created a lot of chances too so we approached it in the right way.
“Clearly if you have players playing well they can give you an option on another day and that was another positive from today.
“Pennant was a threat for them throughout the game and he is an option we have on the right side and when he is playing well he is really dangerous.
“Offside rule is stupid now. When you have a player in an offside position, this player has influence, it is very simple.
“It is a big problem for the referees and I think they must change it for the future because a player can be in the middle and say he has no influence, but he does because he is in the line of vision of the keeper.
“It will be tough for all of teams at the foot of the table, but at the end of the day they need to keep going which is the only way forward and the only way you can change things.”
“I don’t think it will have any bearing (Chelsea’s win over Manchester United). I think it’s a different competition and a different situation.”
On fitness: “Everyone is fit. There are some knocks but we will see in one or two days the situation of the squad.”
Birmingham boss Alex McLeish: “My feelings are a little bit mixed. I’m angry, particularly with the first goal we let in. There was a bit of naivety and it cost us dearly. Their second was a bit scrappy but they had the smell of blood.
“We didn’t throw away two points but Liverpool earned it. But what I did get was a great reaction from the players after the loss to Aston Villa.”
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell (Queudrue 77), Murphy, Larsson, Muamba, Nafti, Kapo (McSheffrey 77), Forssell (Zarate 87), McFadden
Unused subs: Not Used: Doyle, Jerome
Booked: Murphy, Nafti
Goals: Forssell 34, Larsson 55
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Hyypia, Skrtel, Riise (Insua 64), Pennant, Plessis, Lucas, Benayoun, Crouch, Voronin
Unused subs: Itandje, Gerrard, Kuyt, Carragher
Goals: Crouch 63, Benayoun 76
Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).