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Liverpool fightback leaves Birmingham in drop zone

in English Premier League 26 Apr 2008


Jermaine Pennant pushed his claims for a role in Liverpool's Champions League showdown with Chelsea on Wednesday night by inspiring a wonderful second-half fight back as Liverpool forced Birmingham City to settle for a 2-2 draw.

The former Birmingham City winger played a part in a burst of two goals in 12 second-half minutes that deprived his old team of two vital points that would have seen Alex McLeishs side climb out of the bottom three.

Pennant set up Peter Crouch for Liverpool's first and played a role in the header from Yossi Benayoun that cannoned off the back of Rahdi Jaidi to secure a point for the visitors and leave Birmingham in the bottom three.

McLeish must have thought he would be travelling to fellow relegation candidates Fulham next week needing one more win to make survival a certainty, after Mikael Forssell and Sebastien Larsson's goals gave Birmingham a two goal lead after 55 minutes.

But they were unable to capitalise on a Liverpool team with clearly far more important priorities than Premier League points.

Benitez had his mind firmly on plans for Tuesday night's Champions League semi-final return leg at Stamford Bridge and rested no fewer than nine of the players that were on duty at Anfield last Wednesday evening.

Spanish talisman Fernando Torres was omitted from the 16-man squad completely as he was wrapped in cotton wool ahead of Liverpool's most crucial game of the season as they look to keep alive their bid for a sixth European crown.

Premier League points were certainly more of a priority for McLeish and Birmingham as they entered a three-game sequence that would decide their fate and they would have been hugely grateful for the understandable decisions of Liverpool's Spanish manager.

Yet it was hardly a completely weakened Liverpool side, with only one alteration from the side that defeated Fulham the previous Saturday. However Birmingham are made of sterner stuff than Roy Hodgson's team.

Especially at St Andrews where they have lost only once under McLeish since his arrival to replace Steve Bruce and their chances of extending that impressive record improved from the 34th minute thanks to Forsell.

McLeish believes the Finnish international is the most natural goalscorer he possesses and he demonstrated precisely why when he controlled James McFadden's cross at the far post, after it had skimmed of the head of Martin Skrtel and dispatched his tenth goal of the season.

Larsson rammed home a 25-yard free kick after Skrtel fouled James McFadden, but Birmingham's inability to keep a clean sheet came back to haunt them again in the closing stages, as did Pennant.

Birmingham had not managed to prevent opponents scoring against them in their previous 16 games and they collapsed again in the face of some direct and dangerous attacking from their former winger.

It was Pennant's wonderful run from inside his own half and exchanged passes with Benayoun and Andriy Voronin that set up Crouch in the 63rd minute and you could sense the Birmingham nerves.

Pennant's astute pass gave Lucas Leiva the chance to outpace David Murphy and cross for Benayoun.

The Israeli international directed a weak header goalwards, which Maik Taylor, the Birmingham keeper looked to have covered, until it deflected off Jaidi and into the opposite corner to deprive Birmingham of two crucial points.




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