Sunday 28th December 2003 (3pm)
City of Manchester Stadium

Heskey pulls away

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After this game: Pos 6th Pl 18 Pts 28
MATCH REPORT - Man City 2-2 Liverpool

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Anelka 30 pen
Smicer 66
Hamann 80

Fowler 90

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Robbie Fowler saved his best for last at Eastlands as Manchester City snatched an injury-time point off Liverpool.

Fowler's afternoon looked like ending in misery after the former Anfield hero spurned a string of chances against the team he served with such distinction.

Amid the misses in a match City dominated, Vladimir Smicer and Dietmar Hamann had combined to set up an unlikely victory for the Reds, who were outplayed for much of the contest.

Bravely, Fowler refused to let his head drop and when Trevor Sinclair acrobatically screwed a shot in his direction in the final minute of injury time, the former England striker turned the ball home amid furious Liverpool protests for offside.

It was the very least City deserved after producing one of their best performances of the entire campaign.

The result did not end a winless run that now extends to 11 games and did not improve City's paltry record of two Premiership triumphs at their plush new home.

But at least it gave them some reward for an afternoon of wholehearted endeavour that looked as though it would end in victory when Nicolas Anelka fired home from the spot after Fowler had been fouled by John Arne Riise.

On three occasions already this season, Kevin Keegan has been forced to explain why his side have dominated a home game yet failed to register a win.

How City failed to take the lead before Anelka slotted home his first Premiership goal since October 18 was almost beyond comprehension.

Twice in the opening 10 minutes Fowler should have put them in front. Yet somehow, the man who scored with such unerring regularity during his own Liverpool days spurned opportunities he would have been expected to convert with ease.

The first was a clear case of forgetting where the goal was as he fired straight, but wide, from Shaun Wright-Phillips' cross.

Wright-Phillips was also the provider when Fowler next saw the goal glaring at him, this time the former England front man scooping over from a central position just eight yards out.

Not that Wright-Phillips could do any better when he raced onto Fowler's lay-off, screwing his shot horribly wide to waste some impressive approach work.

When Anelka was put clean through by McManaman only to see his shot superbly kept out by Dudek's feet first save, Keegan must have been tempted to smooth out his well-thumbed 'how unlucky are we' speech.

Fortunately for the under-pressure City boss salvation was at hand, the half-hearted complaints from Liverpool over the penalty decision and the TV replays indicating referee Mike Riley had called it correctly.

The goal must have been galling for Gerard Houllier as it came within two minutes of his decision to bolster his defence with Stephane Henchoz in place of Jon Otsemobor.

Liverpool did rally towards the end of the opening period and David Seaman was forced into his first meaningful save when he turned a Danny Murphy volley round in stoppage time.

But when the game resumed, the visitors were still badly outgunned in midfield and would have been out of the game had Dudek not kept out another pair of Fowler strikes, the second a fizzing effort that needed to be smothered at the second attempt.

The loss of Steven Gerrard after an hour would normally be considered a large negative for Liverpool but the limping Reds skipper had made a minimal impact, so El Hadji Diouf's introduction actually provided some missing impetus to the visitors' play.

Emile Heskey had already failed with one headed effort when he dragged himself above the mediocre once more to sting Seaman's hands with an angled effort midway through the second half.

The corner proved to be City's undoing as the mass of City players remained rooted to the spot, allowing Smicer to supply the final touch to a ball which Seaman was unable to claw back as it bobbled over the line.

From then on it was anyone's game. Fowler saw a short-range stab flick over off Sami Hyypia before Harry Kewell smashed a volley against the post from Murphy's cross with Seaman well beaten.

Even though the game was tilting away from his team, Keegan must have hoped the luck that has deserted him over the past two months would return in the form of a winner.

Instead, it looked like it had come for Liverpool after Claudio Reyna had nodded the second of two poor Murphy crosses into Hamann's path and the German dispatched his first-time volley into the top corner with venom.

The City supporters started streaming away, consigned to yet another defeat. Fowler's last-gasp effort told them they should have stayed.

Press Association

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Man City Seaman, Sommeil, Distin, Dunne, Tarnat (Sinclair 71), Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt (Macken 84), Reyna, McManaman (Sibierski 79), Anelka, Fowler.

Subs Not Used: Stuhr-Ellegaard, Wiekens.

Booked: Sommeil.

Liverpool Dudek, Otsemobor (Henchoz 28), Hyypia, Biscan, Riise, Murphy, Gerrard (Diouf 59), Hamann, Smicer (Sinama Pongolle 77), Heskey, Kewell.

Subs Not Used: Luzi Bernardi, Cheyrou.

Booked: Kewell, Biscan.

Att: 47,201

Ref: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

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» Audio/Video Reaction

Gerard Houllier's post-match verdict

Kevin Keegan 's post-match verdict

All audio and video requires RealPlayer and is from the BBC unless otherwise stated.

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Match Report filed: 17th January 2004