FA Cup: Rodgers refuses to criticise after Reds fire blanks

Ross McLean
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Liverpool face a replay at Ewood Park after failing to breach Blackburn’s defence at Anfield

LIVERPOOL boss Brendan Rodgers refused to condemn his side despite failing to overpower resolute Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers during their goalless FA Cup quarter-final clash at Anfield yesterday.

The Reds have lost just twice during regulation time in their past 28 matches and have won five successive Premier League fixtures, but similar to their fourth-round tie against Bolton lacked killer instinct against second-tier opposition.

The teams now face a replay at Ewood Park on either 7 or 8 April for a place in the last four, a venue where Blackburn have already dispatched Premier League opponents Swansea and Stoke in the competition this term.

The dream Wembley send off for skipper Steven Gerrard on his 35th birthday remains alive, although he was left out of the matchday squad after missing six matches with a hamstring injury, while Rodgers insisted his side are matching his expectations.

“It’s been difficult here against Championship teams and Blackburn deserve credit. But my players also deserve credit, they were missing sharpness but they kept going and tried to create chances,” said Rodgers.

“We kept a clean sheet and still have big confidence. We just lacked that final ball. Our objective this week was to get four points out of six [against Manchester City and Burnley] in the league and get into the next round of the FA Cup. We got six points out of six and although we’re not through to the next round, we are still in the draw.”

Blackburn had won the last FA Cup tussle at Anfield between the two sides in 2000 when a Nathan Blake clincher settled matters and the well-drilled visitors were not overawed by the seven-time tournament winners.

The hosts were forced into an early reshuffle following the withdrawal of centre-half Martin Skrtel, who was replaced by experienced defender Kolo Toure after a lengthy stoppage due to a head injury, after which Gary Bowyer’s side enjoyed the greater attacking threat.

For all Blackburn’s intent, clear-cut chances remained limited. Their best opportunity fell to former Cardiff winger Craig Conway, who lashed over after Benin striker Rudi Gestede astutely dummied Tom Cairney’s pass across the penalty area.

The Reds have progressed from 15 of the last 16 FA Cup quarter-finals and England forward Daniel Sturridge evaded the shackles of the Rovers defence in first-half stoppage time, only for his rifled effort to be repelled by Simon Eastwood.

Liverpool were indebted to Simon Mignolet in the opening moments of the second period as he tipped over a powerful header from defender Alex Baptiste following a Conway corner. Toure clipped the outside of the post with a free header from Philippe Coutinho’s inswinging free-kick, while a sprawling Eastwood denied stand-in skipper Jordan Henderson late on.