Pistol Pete draws blank

November 23, 2005
By Richard Jolly

There are moments that entire generations can remember, and describe; not just their location at the time, but the company they kept and how they heard when John F Kennedy was shot or England won the World Cup. And, in years to come, bored grandchildren will be told of the day Peter Crouch scored for Liverpool.

GettyImages / LaurenceGriffithsPeter Crouch attempts a header but David Rivas puts him off.

The exact date, of course, is unknown. But 16 games in and approaching December, it has not happened yet, and another eight chances went begging for the man they don't call Pistol Pete. But the horrible thought occurs; could a Liverpool forward go through an entire season without scoring? (And no, Emile Heskey, for all the jibes at his expense, never managed that).

But if Liverpool 0 Betis 0 was not a predictable scoreline, all too many anticipated Crouch drawing another blank. Apart from not scoring, however, this was one of Crouch's more effective performances. A cushioned header fell for Fernando Morientes to swivel and volley wide. He had the technique, too, to attempt two volleys from outside the penalty box. A diving Antonio Doblas held the first while the latter struck David Rivas, the referee waving away appeals for a spot kick (which, in any case, Crouch would not have taken).

And, in one four-minute first-half spell, he had four efforts of varying quality. The latter two, both headers from Steven Gerrard crosses, just evaded the far post. Later, when substitute Djibril Cisse formed his supply line from the right flank, he stooped to head wide a third time.

Unstinting effort and a never-say-die attitude contribute to his cult status; so, too, does a willingness to speak publicly about his lengthy search for a goal. Crouch deserves sympathy, too, for the manner of his exit - substituted for Harry Kewell. There is a cliché about desperate times, but it was notable that when the Australian warmed up with Cisse, it was the Frenchman's name the Liverpool crowd chanted.

And Crouch still has the backing of his manager. 'He was Man of the Match,' said Rafael Benitez. 'For me, if he continues playing as well as today, I will be delighted because the team will continue winning or getting good results and that is the most important thing for me.

'He is playing really well. At Aston Villa, he plays a few minutes and plays really well. It would be better to see him scoring goals but during the game, you see a lot of things he can do and the alternatives he gives us.'

Neither Kewell nor Cisse could produce the breakthrough and Liverpool, despite securing their place in the last 16 of the Champions League, require a result at Stamford Bridge in two weeks to top the group. And though this was one of Liverpool's more convincing displays, it showed that a consistent winning formula continues to elude Benitez.

With Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso both injured, Benitez could only field two of his Spanish contingent, so it was less of a La Liga reunion than expected. Forceful as Mohamed Sissoko is and for all of Dietmar Hamann's positional discipline, it left Liverpool lacking both playmaker and driving force in the centre of midfield, with Gerrard's exile to the right wing continuing. Meanwhile Cisse, who had seemingly made progress in the lengthy task of winning over Benitez, was dropped to the bench.

And in an opening 20 minutes of uneventful stalemate, they sorely missed his pace. Then Liverpool took a very British approach, and played at a greater tempo. In the process, they gained territory and brought Gerrard into the game. And it almost yielded a goal.

In attack, Morientes had supplied the neater touches, but a more attacking approach brought his diminutive partner to the fore. After Crouch's quartet of opportunities, Gerrard swept in a third inviting ball for Morientes to sidefoot wide. In between, he had stung Doblas' palms with a fierce drive.

Liverpool's Spanish striker, having spurned the two best chances of the second half - courtesy of Gerrard's chest and Crouch's head - was the man to make way when Cisse emerged, but it was to play on the right. Even after Kewell's arrival, he maintained his station on the right, while the winger took up a central role.

The irrepressible Gerrard moved infield and twice drew fine saves from the impressive Doblas and, much as Liverpool pushed for a winner, concerted pressure, as Peter Crouch knows, does not necessarily lead to goals.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Steven Gerrard - Has a remarkable ability to exert an influence on a game, no matter what position he plays in. It was no coincidence that virtually all Liverpool's best chances involved their captain.

MOAN OF THE MATCH: Why, even in the final minute, replace Steven Gerrard with the ever-ineffectual Darren Potter?

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Impressive or frustrating? Making progress or slipping further behind? There is enough evidence to argue either case. Perhaps, though, the absence of the Spaniards Garcia and Alonso cost them victory.

BETIS VERDICT: A draw at Anfield brought celebrations at the final whistle, but they are condemned to the UEFA Cup. Indeed, they seem something of a schizophrenic side, technically and tactically astute and victors against Chelsea, but somehow second from bottom in Spain. Even the absence of their two main strikers does not fully explain that.