On Sunday afternoon Birmingham City and Liverpool played out a goal less draw in front of a packed St. Andrew’s Stadium. As the late summer sun beat down on the Second City, it became obvious just how far Birmingham had come as a Premier League team as well as how much work Roy Hodgson has to do with a particularly average Liverpool squad.
Indeed Liverpool have goalkeeper Pepe Reina to thank for keeping them in contention, the Spaniard was forced to make a string of fine saves as the afternoon progressed, and without him the result could have been very different. Cameron Jerome and Craig Gardner were denied by Reina in the first half, twice diving low down to his right to beat the ball away; the save from Jerome in particular was of the world class variety. Liverpool should be very grateful that their goalkeeper was in such fine form on a ground on which he has struggled previously.
Birmingham, minus new signing Alex Hleb, started brightly and although they lacked a clinical edge they hassled and harried Liverpool all over the park. Barry Ferguson controlled the tempo for the hosts, sitting just in front of the resolute pairing of Scott Dann and Roger Johnson. The former Scotland international has formed an excellent understanding with his two centre halves, and this partnership has been at the heart of Birmingham’s true arrival as a Premier League force.
With a little more class and conviction in the final third of the pitch Birmingham could easily have wrapped up all three points. James McFadden weighed in with an excellent performance, playing as he does, just behind the target man Jerome. The Scotsman ploughed a furrow down both flanks of the St. Andrew’s pitch, linking the play nicely with overlapping Ridgewell and Carr.
Liverpool opted for a strike partnership of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. The Spaniard Torres still looks a shadow of his former self as he continues to search in vein for the fitness and form which has seemingly deserted him. Liverpool’s number nine wasted the Reds best chance of the game as he blasted the ball at Ben Foster from a narrow angle, when a simple cross to Gerrard beckoned.
The home side pursued Hodgson’s men relentlessly, denying them room at every turn. The midfield pairing of Lucas Leiva and Christian Poulsen showed little ambition in their passing and were indicative of a Liverpool side who were more than happy to accept a point. Indeed the loudest cheer of the afternoon from the away fans came on seventy-six minutes as Lucas was replaced by new Portuguese signing Raul Meireles. The new £11 million man had very little time to make an impact on the proceedings but Liverpool fans and management alike must be praying that he acclimatises quickly to the pace of the EPL, he could have a vital role to play for the Reds this season.
The spectre of Rafa Benitez still hangs over Hodgson’s side, negative in selection and timid at times, they look light years behind their former ‘Big Four’ brethren, it will be a long road to Champion’s League redemption for Liverpool. The disastrous ownership of Messrs Gillett and Hicks has jeopardised the future of the club and as disgruntled Liverpool fans bend the ears of radio call-in presenters the length and breadth of the country, Hodgson must surely now realise what a mammoth task he has in front of him.
Birmingham are now seventeen games unbeaten at St. Andrews and are well on the way to becoming an established Premier League team. Built on solid, hard working foundations, manager Alex McLeish has started to add layers of flair and guile to his squad, and if they can develop more of a killer instinct the Blues will continue to cause major headaches to their Premier League rivals this season.