LIVERPOOL 1-1 BIRMINGHAM
FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
Wednesday 1st February 2006 (20:00) at Anfield
Even Robbie Fowler could not produce the miracle to save Liverpool as they failed to beat 10-man Birmingham.
He entered the action just after the hour mark, after Liverpool had taken the lead through Steven Gerrard's 17th goal of the season.
But Birmingham, who had Damien Johnson sent off for a heavy tackle on Daniel Agger in the first half, refused to give up and were rewarded when Xabi Alonso gave away a freak own goal.
He let Chris Sutton's header bounce off his chest a couple of yards out and the ball wrongfooted a surprised Jose Reina.
Cue Fowler. Liverpool piled forward, Dietmar Hamann hit the bar and the returning hero saw a dramatic overhead kick crash past Maik Taylor with seconds of injury time left.
The Kop erupted, but it turned to groans as a linesman's flag correctly signalled that Fowler was offside.
So Liverpool saw their eight-match streak of home league wins end and Birmingham poached a point which could be so crucial to them as the relegation battle unfolds.
They played the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah over the tannoy when Fowler - the man the Kop call God - walked out at Anfield on his return to the club he left four years ago.
Fowler, as expected, started on the bench, while there was a debut for new Danish defender Aggar as Hamann and Luis Garcia also returned to the side.
Birmingham had a debut boy of their own, Czech star Martin Latka, with recent signing Sutton up front.
The Midlanders started well and another Anfield old boy, Emile Heskey, just failed to get on the end of a Jermaine Pennant cross in the first minute following a fine cross-field ball from David Dunn.
Dunn caused Liverpool plenty of problems on the left, and one neat chip from the edge of the box only just cleared Reina's bar.
A blistering 25-yard drive from Gerrard also threatened to break the deadlock.
Then a mistake by Sami Hyypia after 20 minutes allowed Heskey to touch the ball to Sutton, who struck a 12-yard effort which Reina did well to beat away.
Referee Uriah Rennie took a hand in the proceedings after 28 minutes when he produced an instant red card for a tackle by Johnson on Agger.
Johnson's foot caught Agger on the knee as they both threw themselves at the ball. Rennie was only a few feet away and had no doubt about the decision, Birmingham protested, but to no avail. TV replays showed Johnson's foot high but maybe without as much intent as Rennie clearly felt was there.
Six minutes later Birmingham lost Dunn, clearly troubled by an injury to his right leg, and Stan Lazaridis came on.
Liverpool found more space and Luis Garcia saw a glancing header held by Maik Taylor following a Kewell cross. Another Kewell cross saw Peter Crouch control and turn well before lifting a shot just wide.
But Liverpool were sloppy in the first half and the sight of Fowler warming up on the pitch at the break suggested he would soon be involved.
Crouch nodded narrowly wide from a Finnan cross, then Sutton glanced a header against his own bar from a Gerrard cross as Liverpool searched for the lead.
Although Morientes had a header saved by Taylor, Liverpool seemed unable to inject tempo and pace into their efforts.
Luis Garcia jinked and twisted to turn an effort over the top, and Gerrard could not quite reach a Kewell cross.
The breakthrough arrived after 62 minutes when Gerrard exchanged passes with Morientes, the return ball from the Spaniard forced the ball through a forest of legs by the Reds captain and into the net.
Before the restart, Fowler rose from the bench to tremendous acclaim, and a standing ovation, to take over from Crouch. Birmingham replaced the injured Kilkenny with Olivier Tebily at the same time.
Xabi Alonso replaced Gerrard on 72 minutes as Fowler set up Morientes for a shot which was blocked in the six-yard box by Latka. Riise's cross was then flicked on to the unmarked Luis Garcia, but somehow he managed to stab wide from six yards.
It took a stunning point blank save by Reina to force away a Heskey header from a Lazaridis cross to keep Liverpool ahead.
But they were not so lucky two minutes from time when Pennant's cross was headed down into the six-yard box by Sutton, only for Alonso to make his howling error which sent the Birmingham fans wild.
Alonso responded with a curling free-kick which was heading for the top corner before Taylor clawed it over the bar superbly. Alex Bruce took over from Lazaridis in injury time.
There was still time for Hamann to hit the bar and Morientes to see a header deflected over as desperate Liverpool poured forward. Fowler's dramatic overhead kick looked to have provided the returning hero with the perfect start to phase two of his Liverpool career.
But an alert linesman denied him, and Liverpool were left to rue their misses.
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|Match Report filed: 1 February 20056|