Former Everton striker Victor Anichebe came off the bench to do his former side a big favor as his goal denied Liverpool all three points against West Brom at the Hawthorns. In truth, the goal midway through the second period was nicely gift-wrapped for Anichebe courtesy of a woeful pass by Kolo Toure that led to Daniel Sturridge’s first-half effort being canceled out.
The result means Liverpool drop vital points in the battle for the final Champions League spot and now sit just a single point above their rivals Everton. Having come out on top so resoundingly and impressively in the Merseyside derby in midweek, this was performance in stark contrast. Despite being in front at the break, Liverpool had barely got out of second gear and when West Brom finally awoke from their slumber in the second half, Brendan Rodgers’s men failed to respond. Not for the first time this season, it is a defensive howler that has proved costly and once again they have looked brittle on the road. Just four wins away from home all season tells its own story for a club that not so long ago retained title ambitions.
While West Brom lacked quality, particularly in the final third, throughout, they did at least produce a performance in the second half that showed an urgency to arrest an ominous slide toward the Premier League relegation zone. A heavy defeat could have left them inside the bottom three at the close of play, instead they now have at least the cushion of a single point. Pepe Mel is still looking for his first win in charge, but draws at home against Everton and Liverpool in the past two weeks provides something of a platform going forward.
There had been precious little to raise the pulses in the early going. Indeed, it was with the only effort on target by either side in the first half that the goal arrived in the 24th minute.
Against a compact West Brom side, Liverpool finally found space through the middle for one of their creative talents and Philippe Coutinho was able to turn and get Raheem Sterling in behind the West Brom defense. The move’s momentum appeared to have been checked as Sterling was closed down before he laid it off to Luis Suarez down the right of the box and, despite being surrounded by three defenders, he superbly dug out a cross to the far post where Sturridge had read the play well to volley home from barely a yard out.
A second goal nearly arrived, with Toure just failing to get a decisive touch to the ball in the midst of a goal-mouth scramble following a corner. The closest West Brom came to threatening the Liverpool goal in the opening half was a well-struck effort just wide from Zoltan Gera. The hosts had been listless in the opening 45 minutes, with Czech Republic international Matej Vydra offering neither a presence nor a goal threat in the lone striker role.
That problem initially remained after the break, but West Brom did come out for the restart playing at a much better tempo as they sought to get back into the contest. And they finally tested Simon Mignolet for the first time, when Gareth McAuley’s header was just too close to the Belgian stopper, who blocked it one-handed.
Still, Liverpool would soon have a great chance to potentially put the game beyond their opponents. Diego Lugano, who was brought on for the injured Jonas Olsson late in the first half, was outfought for the ball by his fellow Uruguayan Suarez and, having skillfully gotten past McAuley, he was clean through on goal. Suarez’s finish on this occasion was lacking, though, and foster made a good low save.
It proved a major turning point. Mel responded and brought on Anichebe to join Vydra in a two-man frontline and provide more of a direct threat. Still, West Brom’s equalizer had more to do with their opponents’ failings. Toure received a roll out from Mignolet, but instead of knocking it back to his goalkeeper or simply looking forward, the experienced Ivorian committed the cardinal sin of playing it square across the edge of his own box. Anichebe was on hand to receive the gift and deserves credit for the way he took a touch and snapped up the chance with a low drive to get his second goal in a West Brom shirt.
Foster had to be alert at the other end to rush out and deny Sturridge, but Liverpool showed precious little to suggest that they would go back in front. At the end, few could argue that a share of the points was a just outcome.