Monday 19 March 2018

Rodgers focuses on plus points as Reds' poor run continues

Liverpool 1-1 Norwich

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers shakes hands with Norwich manager Alex Neil after the game
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers shakes hands with Norwich manager Alex Neil after the game
Norwich's on-loan winger Matthew Jarvis applauds fans after the game
Russell Martin scores for Norwich
Norwich's Sebastien Bassong and Robbie Brady celebrate after the game

Chris Bascombe

It was the habit of the former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez to stare into the abyss, only to secure the victory, that edged him back from the brink.

Whenever the hell-fires were raging and a must-win game arrived, his players duly obliged with a safety harness and three points, thus ensuring serenity returned until the next crisis.

It is a habit that Brendan Rodgers needs to learn sooner rather than later after Liverpool's winless run extended to five games as Norwich City left Anfield with a point.

The failure to secure three points was hardly worthy of pushing him over the precipice, but it still keeps him in a precarious position, seeking a momentum shift.

Rodgers needed a performance and craved a positive result following successive league defeats. This turned into an inconclusive afternoon as he oversaw the former, but not the latter.

But for a series of wasted chances and the customary defensive error - this time from Simon Mignolet - he would have been in a position to argue the early-season hysteria was misplaced.

Not even the much-anticipated reintroduction of Daniel Sturridge following his prolonged injury absence could reignite the goalscoring flair, although Danny Ings' first goal for the club was a highlight of the former Burnley striker's excellent second-half performance.

His opening goal, three minutes after the break, was cancelled out when Russell Martin cleverly poked home a 62nd-minute equaliser.

That followed Mignolet's unconvincing attempt to clear Robbie Brady's corner.

Martin joined the Norwich squad late following the birth of his son. Most well-wishers oblige with a bouquet of flowers, but Liverpool's goalkeeper evidently had another gift in mind.

"Late last night his wife phoned to say the contractions had started," said Norwich manager Alex Neil.

"The baby was delivered at 10am and then he was on the first flight back up to put in a captain's performance."

Had Mignolet not made amends three minutes later to stop Matt Jarvis tapping in a second, it would have been even better for the Canaries.

Norwich, rather like Bournemouth and Watford, proved that they have not come up to be relegation fodder. Their confidence will soar, but Neil was the first to admit they rode their luck, thanks to a combination of John Ruddy's goalkeeping and poor Liverpool finishing.

There was far more to offer encouragement to Rodgers. The introduction of Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can in a back three at the expense of Dejan Lovren added a passing fluency from the defence.

Alberto Moreno is well-suited to a left wing-back role, and playing two strikers promised more potency, even if the finishing needs work.

"We created enough chances," Rodgers said. "What is obviously most disappointing is the goal. We lost concentration. It should not happen. But there were a lot of positives. Today was a step forward in terms of the creativity."

Sturridge's presence inevitably made a difference, although he took on the role of creator in the early stages, dropping deep in an effort to form an understanding with Christian Benteke.

That link-up would last only 45 minutes as Benteke, troubled with a tight hamstring, had to be replaced by Ings. Liverpool's threat increased with the enforced substitution.


In an edgy atmosphere, Liverpool wasted chances from the early stages. James Milner thought he should have had a penalty after three minutes, claiming he'd been tripped by Brady.

The midfielder should have done better on 18 minutes, his shot blocked by Brady. He was more unfortunate with a volley later in the half as the pressure started to intensify.

Ruddy denied Sturridge when he tried to pick his spot and Nathaniel Clyne was inches wide with a strike from the edge of the penalty area.

There was far more purpose to Liverpool's attacking play, even if the punch was still absent, and the improvement yielded its reward on 48 minutes when Moreno sent Ings scurrying beyond the Norwich defence and he clipped his shot past the advancing Ruddy.

Liverpool took control, Ings far more enterprising as a striker and he and Coutinho missed opportunities in a late surge.

There were howls of frustration on the final whistle as the first of four consecutive Anfield fixtures failed to provide Rodgers the respite he craves - but that was more a response to what has gone before than what happened here.

If the judgment is based solely on the 90 minutes, Rodgers' identifying an upturn is fair. The trouble comes when the scope is broadened, you ask how long the wait for a victory will be.

It is no wonder that Rodgers spends most of the game on the touchline. The heat in the dugout is not receding.

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