Semi Ajayi scores late equaliser to earn West Brom draw at Liverpool

Aside from strengthening his reputation as a Premier League firefighter in recent years Sam Allardyce has also developed a rare knack of annoying Liverpool at Anfield. The last visiting manager to win at Premier League game at this ground – over three years and 67 matches ago – became the first to deny Jürgen Klopp’s side a home league win this season as West Bromwich Albion took a valuable point in their bid to climb out of the relegation zone.

Liverpool, who had previously dropped only two points from the 48 available at Anfield in 2020, were dominant but unable to rediscover their clinical and ruthless edge after Sadio Mané had swept them into an early lead. The visitors, who had presented virtually no threat until the second half, punished the hosts’ increasingly subdued attacking display when Semi Ajayi headed in from an 82nd-minute corner. Roberto Firmino almost won it in the final minute but Sam Johnstone produced a superb finger-tip save from the Brazilian’s back-post header.

Albion had kicked off with five players stationed on the halfway line ready to pursue a long ball deep into the Liverpool half. That training ground routine represented the start and finish of their attacking intent for the duration of the first half. Liverpool won possession from the visitors’ kick-off and rarely let go. Karlan Grant, the lone striker in Allardyce’s initial 4-5-1 formation, quickly morphed into a sixth midfielder and Albion’s 4-6-0 system predictably ensured there was only an occasional release from the champions’ constant pressure.

Klopp’s team had enjoyed seven full days to recover from their last fixture, the 7-0 destruction of Crystal Palace, and wasted little time in exploiting the few gaps in the visitors’ defensive blocks. Andy Robertson was prominent from the start, prospering on the overlap and delivering an early cross that just evaded Mohamed Salah at the far post.

Sadio Mané scores for Liverpool in the first half.

Sadio Mané scores for Liverpool in the first half. Photograph: Nick Potts/Reuters

Albion’s containment policy was quickly undermined by the brilliance of Mané, who made a difficult chance look so easy when Joël Matip pinged a pass into a crowded penalty area. The Senegal international controlled the defender’s ball on his chest, turned and volleyed beyond Sam Johnstone in one flowing, lightning movement. Ever alert, the striker needed only a moment’s hesitation from Ajayi to find the space required to score his sixth league goal of the campaign.

The rest of the first period brought few clearcut chances in relation to Liverpool’s dominance of possession and almost permanent residence in the final third. Mané steered a diving header wide after peeling away from Darnell Furlong and Ajayi again to connect with Jordan Henderson’s cross. Salah volleyed over when Robertson’s free-kick was headed into his path on the edge of the area and Trent Alexander-Arnold whipped another free-kick wide of Johnstone’s right-hand post. Allardyce will no doubt have regarded Liverpool’s limited number of chances from open play as a victory of sorts.

Albion almost went two behind early in the second half when Georginio Wijnaldum teed up Henderson and the captain’s shot faded just wide with Johnstone rooted to the spot. In fairness the visitors did show ambition after the interval, certainly in terms of a willingness to commit bodies forward in search of an equaliser, and Grant produced their first shot on target when turning sharply on Furling’s cross. The effort was straight at the previously unemployed Alisson, however.

Klopp’s frustration started to boil when Dara O’Shea collected the first booking of the game by catching Henderson from behind with a trailing leg. The midfielder was unhurt but moments later Matip pulled up with a suspected groin strain and immediately signalled to the bench that he could not continue. Liverpool’s injury problems have started to ease of late, as evidenced by the return of James Milner and Xherdan Shaqiri to a strong and experienced substitutes’ list that includes the fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it is the concentration of knocks in central defence that has really tested resources. Rhys Williams replaced the stricken Matip for only his second appearance in the Premier League and, when the next decision went against Liverpool, Klopp found himself the second person booked for his demonstrative dissent.

The visitors went close to capitalising on Liverpool’s defensive disruption when Romaine Sawyers created their clearest opportunity with a penetrating long ball towards Grant. The striker beat Williams for pace down the left and advanced into the penalty area but Alisson, as is so often the case, proved immovable and blocked the low shot with his legs.

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Salah had a decent chance to double the home side’s advantage when Wijnaldum delivered a perfect cross into the area but, having found a yard on Albion’s central defenders, the Liverpool forward headed high over Johnstone’s bar. The miss assumed greater, and unexpected, significance when the visitors levelled with only eight minutes remaining. A loose pass from Curtis Jones plus some defensive uncertainty led to Albion winning a corner on the right. Matheus Pereira, a late substitute, exchanged passes with Sawyer before sweeping in a delightful cross that Ajayi met with a towering header above Fabinho. The defender had his head in his hands as the ball struck the inside of the far post but was soon racing to the corner flag in celebration when it dropped down over the line with Alisson well beaten.


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