Liverpool could not ease the pressure on under-fire manager Brendan Rodgers, slumping to a 1-1 draw at home against Norwich. Sub Danny Ings gave the Reds a second-half lead, but a sublime goal from Russell Martin gave the Canaries a share of the points and left the Reds in the bottom half of the table, with just eight points after six games. Try as they might – and the Reds pushed hard at the end – Liverpool could not get the job done in what was a genuine must-win match. As its stands, Liverpool have not won a game across all competitions since mid-August.
The big news of the day pre-game was Daniel Sturridge’s return to the Liverpool starting lineup after a five-month layoff due to a serious hip injury, and with him came the hope that the Reds’ anemic offense could be revitalized. Jordan Henderson was out after breaking his foot, but otherwise this was the Liverpool side under-pressure manager Brendan Rodgers wanted to play: three at the back with a diamond in the middle and Christian Benteke running off Philippe Coutinho.
For Norwich, things were a bit stickier. The Canaries hadn’t won any of their last ten matches against Liverpool, losing nine of them outright, and Liverpool have a habit of running up the score against them to boot. But coming into the match on seven points after six games – the same total as Liverpool had - did not pose the same threat to Alex Neil as it did to his counterpart in the other dugout. Norwich, recently promoted to the Premier League, are just fighting to survive, and an average of a point from every game is likely to keep them up.
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From the start, Liverpool took the initiative, with James Milner getting into tricky areas and forcing Norwich to deal with it. He took a tumble in the third minute and the Kop crowed for a penalty, but ref Anthony Taylor waved that and a few other shouts off as well, rightly judging that Milner had gone to ground deliberately.
For all their possession, however, it wasn’t until a half hour into the game that Liverpool had a legitimate chance. Russell Martin made a poor pass that Luca Leiva was able to leap upon, and as Sebastien Bassong was dragged wide by Benteke, Sturridge was given a clean strike on John Ruddy’s net. But the Norwich keeper was equal to the effort, parrying it clear. Ruddy would be called on ten minutes later when Steven Whittaker made a dreadful header back in the direction of the keeper that almost fell for Coutinho, but the keeper was smartly out and bravely punched the ball clear.
Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne were Liverpool’s best players of the half, playing so high up the pitch as to almost be wingers. That compressed the Norwich attack, and for long patches, they were unable to truly test Simon Mignolet at the other end. Only Cameron Jerome, with a kind of half-cross, half-shot that Mignolet made a theatrical parry on, really tested Liverpool’s resolve.
Benteke would be yanked at the half for Ings due to a reported hamstring issue and the move paid immediate dividends, with Ings scoring in front of the Kop three minutes into the second half. Moreno pounced onto a terrible pass from Martin, passed the ball over the top to Ings, and he in turn chested the ball down to fire the ball through the helpless Ruddy.
The lead would not last: Martin would strike just after the hour on a corner with a wonder striker off a corner. Mignolet parried a corner from Robbie Brady, but only as far as Martin, who chested the ball on to his left foot â and then flicked the ball over the keeper and into the top corner. It was a goal kissed with real flair, and it stunned the Anfield faithful even as it sent the Canaries into wild celebration.
As the game opened up, there were chances at both ends. Mignolet was forced into a fine stop on Matt Jarvis, who nearly redirected the ball through the keeper after a super counter-attack sparked by Nathan Redmond. Then, Roberto Firmino, thrown on for Lucas, forced a great stop from Ruddy in the 73rd, while Coutinho should have scored – but could not – with a two-on-two breakaway five minutes later.
Ings would then run out of turf in the 82nd minute, with Adam Lallana and him combining to cut through the Canaries’ back line – but with Ruddy beat, the former Burnley man could not spin the ball on frame from the endline. Lallana and Emre Can almost spun the ball in deep in stoppage, but the spot caromed wide of the post.
How long Rodgers can hang on at Anfield is now a very real question. Booed off by the Kop at the end of the game, there is a sense time is running out for the manager and this very disjointed, very expensive and very impotent group of players.