The Reds failed to score for only the third time in the last 12 matches as mid-table SkyBet Championship side Rovers frustrated the home side.
Blackburn succeeded where, a week ago, Premier League champions Manchester City had failed in not only keeping a clean sheet but avoiding defeat as they brought their hosts’ five-match winning run at Anfield to an end. And, based on their first-half performance, there may be a tinge of regret on Blackburn’s part that they are not already celebrating a trip to Wembley.
An eight-minute injury delay for Martin Skrtel, who fell awkwardly in an aerial challenge with Rudy Gestede and appeared to briefly lose consciousness before being carried off wearing a neck brace, disrupted the flow as early as the third minute. Blackburn responded better and threatened to overwhelm their off-key hosts, who struggled to dominate midfield with Emre Can replacing the injured Joe Allen.
Gestede, Rovers’ 15-goal top scorer proved to be a handful for a remodelled defence which now had substitute Kolo Toure at its heart with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet also enduring his fair share of aerial tests.
Toure’s reading of the game allowed him to cut out a break from Craig Conway but the Blackburn midfielder was able to regain possession and swing over a cross which Glen Johnson chested narrowly past the post under pressure from Gestede.
Conway was less precise with his next effort, blazing over when presented with a free shot after Toure had given the ball away and got caught out of position.
Blackburn continued to dominate with Raheem Sterling, positioned out wide on the left, having to track back to block a Gestede effort but they could not force the breakthrough. Liverpool’s efforts were sporadic with Adam Lallana having a penalty claim turned down, Kolo Toure blasting home only to be denied by an offside flag and Daniel Sturridge’s fierce effort in added time parried by Simon Eastwood.
If the home side were hoping to put things right in the second half, Alex Baptiste’s 49th-minute header, tipped over by Mignolet, was a warning it would require more than a 15-minute break to alter the momentum.
Liverpool needed something to jolt them into life and the introduction of Mario Balotelli just before the hour was aimed at doing that, although Toure again came closest to scoring with a header against the post from close range.
Balotelli’s blast high into the Anfield Road End was evidence of the job Blackburn had done in frustrating their opponents.
Jordan Henderson’s angled drive was batted away by Eastwood as Blackburn mounted a determined rearguard action in the face of late pressure which saw Sterling head wide but the visitors fully deserved the chance for another shot at securing a semi-final spot.
Brendan Rodgers was left to bemoan a series of penalty decisions which went against Liverpool. The Reds boss felt his side could have been awarded two spot-kicks. He said: “They defended very, very well and when you have that many bodies behind the ball – and they were very brave, got blocks in – and I thought we should have had a penalty.
“Adam Lallana’s one looked a clear penalty. The defender is recovering back in, but he’s on the wrong side and he can’t get to the ball, so for me, that was a penalty. You could argue when [Rudy] Gestede handballs it off the header from the free-kick, we could have had another penalty, and sometimes you need that little bit of luck.
“They have got some good players – Gestede gives you a problem up front – but I thought in the main, we dealt with that really, really well.
“I thought maybe the sharpness was just missing and that wee bit of incision. But, credit to the players, they kept a clean sheet and the objective was to be in the hat for the next round by the end of the evening, and that’s what we are in.”
Rovers skipper Matt Kilgallon was quick to insist the home side did not deserve a penalty for his challenge on dangerman Daniel Sturridge.
He said: “No, no, no, no. You have got to be tight to him. You give him a yard and he’s got that shot with no back-lift. Maybe when I did give him that yard, he has got the shot off.
“You have got to be tight to these players and that’s what I was.”
Things might have been worse for Liverpool had it not been for a fine 49th-minute save by Mignolet to claw Baptiste’s header out of the top corner.
Baptiste said: “I was free at the corner. They mark zonally and I thought it was in, to be honest.”