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Feb 3, 2013

The red nightmare reawakens

Liverpool, until quite recently, were more of a full-blown Friday the 13th hoodoo to Manchester City than a mere boogey-team. At the height of their pomp and glory years three decades ago, they managed 85 unbeaten home games on the trot. That astonishing feat occurred between January 1978 and January 1981. That's three whole years unbeaten at Anfield, a period during which City got tanned a few times, too.

- Aguero brilliance rescues point

Liverpool supporters would probably accept the offer of a month unbeaten these days, but Sunday's performance at the Etihad gave this correspondent a view back on many years of anguish and embarrassment, as Liverpool rolled back at least some of those years to produce a surprisingly fluid and dominant display at the home of the champions.

So resolute and chipper did they become, in fact, that a rare home defeat looked in the cards until Sergio Aguero played the angles to score a sumptuous equaliser to salvage a 2-2 draw. It had been a game chock full of mistakes, mislaid passes and flying, mistimed tackles but was decorated with four beautiful goals. Once again, the English Premier League laid on an error-ridden slide fest that, by the end, had everyone glued to its every hop, every skip and every bump.

It had already become evident Tuesday at Loftus Road that City were not on the brink of any great breakthrough of form or cohesion, as they struggled to get around the bottom club's pedestrian defence. Down Hill and around Derry, there had been no way through to a goal ably marshaled by Julio Cesar. Liverpool's defence presented an altogether different prospect, with Daniel Agger looking like the leftover from a biker fistfight and Jamie Carragher older and wiser in the dark arts of mugging than the hills themselves. Behind them, Pepe Reina trained his sights, slapped his enormous gloves together and checked his angles.

This has been a season that has refused to go beyond the merely good-to-average for City, pursuing Manchester United in second gear for such a long time, watching the leaders pull gradually away with their happy knack of playing decent to average but always finding the breakthrough before bedtime. Here City were made to look pedestrian and errant in their passing, a real rarity these days, as the midfield axis of Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry chugged and puffed and lost possession. We can all hide behind statistics, but a 78 percent pass completion rate today must be the lowest for a City side for some considerable time.

If nothing else intrudes in the meantime, I will go to bed tonight dreaming of Garcia square balls, so plentiful were they across City's midfield and back again. When the ball did putter forward, as it did off the Spaniard's toe end in the 24th minute, it did not go too far and was sent back with interest by the returning favourite Daniel Sturridge, straight into Joe Hart's net. That Dzeko had seemed to have been taken out in the build-up did not unduly bother referee Anthony Taylor, as he waved everyone gleefully upfield for the denouement off Garcia's tragic right foot.

Liverpool have now completed their games against last season's champions and have twice played out 2-2 draws, both of which could have delivered considerably more for them. City's lethargy and generosity of passing made the Reds look a little like the threshing machine of old.

There was a time not so very long ago when I would wake up in a cold sweat at the thought of Terry McDermott's frizzle perm, Graeme Souness' Zapata moustache and -- particularly -- Sammy Lee's full-nappy-look shorts. Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush used to bang in the goals at Maine Road like they were on some kind of training exercise where you had to humiliate the goalkeeper as much as possible. The feeling of impending doom that gripped the place as we watched him and his mates turning up at the front gates of Maine Road each season was a thing to behold. Grown men stood paralysed with fear that they were about to witness another run around in red. And this was the City players. On the Kippax you could have cut the trepidation with a lumberman's axe, while on the field the Reds sluiced through the blues like a chainsaw through margarine.

In 35 long years against Liverpool I can barely remember anything going right. Clive Wilson, Nicolas Anelka, Kevin Reeves and Kiki Musampa are the only players who can call themselves match-winners in games against the red foe. Add to that painfully short list today's man of the match, James Milner, and that is very much all that you get.

Those old days came back to haunt us all Sunday. A plague of red shirts bearing down on Hart's goal. Shots coming in from all angles. It was not a pretty sight, except of course for the late -- perhaps undeserved -- equaliser that came off the right boot of Sergio Aguero. The little man, not enjoying his best game, chased the ball down the right, eluded the Liverpool keeper and curled a magnificent physics-defying shot through the eye of a needle. With nightmares of Souness, Kennedy, Dalglish and the gang rearing up in front of us, it was nice to know at least that Liverpool had also brought the modern version of Bruce Grobbelaar along for the ride, too.