Blackburn battle at Anfield and earn Reds replay in FA Cup quarters
Liverpool remain favourites to win the FA Cup at 2/1 with Coral, despite drawing with canny Championship club Blackburn Rovers, who will take Bendan Rodgers’ Reds back to Ewood Park for a quarter-final replay.
Giving an excellent account of themselves, Gary Bowyer’s battling Blackburn bombarded their hosts with an aerial assault in the first half, with tasty target man and top scorer Rudy Gestede involved in almost every incident.
Benin international Gestede took just a few minutes to make an impact, knocking Liverpool hardman Martin Srktel out in midair as the two duelled over a Rovers goal-kick.
After initial concern over the concussed Slovakia centre back, Skrtel sustained no lasting damage, but was still stretchered off and sent to hospital as a precaution.
This clash knocked Rodgers’ Reds out of any stride they might have found, and stopper Simon Mignolet lost out to Gestede in the next aerial battle, though luckily saw the striker’s effort sail off target.
Still without club captain and Kop idol Steven Gerrard, it fell to stand-in skipper Jordan Henderson to get Liverpool on the front foot. Emre Can moved back into midfield alongside him, but switching between the engine room and defence is looking a little counter-productive.
Raheem Sterling, deployed in a left wing back role by Rodgers here, also gave Wales prospect Adam Henley a torrid time. Matt Kilgallon’s superb interception then denied Adam Lallana in the box, while Blackburn had a penalty shout of their own when a left-wing cross looking for Gestede struck Sterling on the arm.
Kolo Toure, who replaced the stricken Skrtel in the Reds defence, thought he had opened the scoring after half an hour, but a raised offside flag ruled this out. Replays showed the ball hit Gestede’s hand in the build-up.
Simon Eastwood parried Sterling’s strike deep into first-half stoppage time, but it was much-maligned Liverpool goalie Mignolet who pulled off a stunning one-handed stop after the break to keep out a set piece header from Alex Baptiste.
Yet another penalty claim followed with Daniel Sturridge going down when Kilgallon’s arm came across him, but again referee Andre Marriner did not point to the spot.
Toure went close again, nodding Philippe Coutinho’s free-kick down into the ground and off the far post on the hour mark. Rodgers threw on Mario Balotelli to partner Sturridge up top in search of a winner, but he could only force Eastwood into easy saves with a couple of openings.
Henderson’s shot from a tight angle inside the last 10 minutes needed more work to tip away by the Rovers goalie, with the visitors defending deep as early out-ball Gestede seeing his influence fade.
Blackburn certainly earned a deserved replay here and look overpriced at 33/1 to lift the FA Cup, not least because they carried more threat and produced greater entertainment than fellow Championship club Reading, who remain in the competition after a bore draw with Bradford City.