Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lacklustre leaders held

Liverpool missed the chance to go six points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League as they were held to a goalless draw at Stoke.

The gap to Chelsea is now four points, with the Blues away to Manchester United on Sunday, as Steven Gerrard twice hit the woodwork in the last five minutes.

Neverthless a day after his infamous rant at Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, Benitez must have been left speechless at his side's overall performance.

They failed to break down a Stoke side which had failed to win in their previous six league games.

Argentina coach Diego Maradona was guest of honour at the Britannia Stadium, no doubt keen to see at first hand visiting midfielder Javier Mascherano, the national team captain.

But he found it hard going, as did Liverpool.

Dirk Kuyt should have done better in the eighth minute when he sent a free header wide of the post following a cross from Albert Riera.

It was a good chance for Kuyt to add to his seven-goal tally but he was left frustrated.

Stoke hit back and should have taken the lead in the 13th minute when Liverpool failed to clear a high, hopeful ball from Amdy Faye.

Rory Delap found himself clear on goal inside the six-yard area but only succeeded in blasting a shot against the underside of the crossbar and Richard Cresswell failed to take advantage of the rebound.

Liverpool responded in the 22nd minute and Kuyt's effort was beaten away at the post by goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

Stoke, however, found the net in the 31st minute when Ryan Shawcross got on the end of a cross from Matthew Etherington, on his debut, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.

This was a good little spell for the home side and a minute later Dave Kitson sent a header into Jose Reina's arms following a long throw from Delap.

Liverpool then launched a swift counter-attack in the 38th minute and Riera whipped in a cross from the left.

Yossi Benayoun tried to get on the end of it but the ball skipped away from him at the last moment.

A poor clearance, however, from Reina put Liverpool in trouble six minutes into the second half.

Kitson latched on to the ball and skipped away from the goalkeeper but his effort from an acute angle ended in the side-netting.

Stoke were making a decent fist of it and Delap headed wide in the 56th minute following a crossfield pass from Danny Higginbotham.

Benitez decided to make a switch in the 60th minute and brought on Fernando Torres for Riera in a bid to beef up the attack.

Of more concern to Benitez, however, must have been the number of high balls Stoke were winning.

Gerrard was then booked for taking a free-kick too early, such was Liverpool's anxiety in trying to make the breakthrough.

Lucas squandered a great chance for Liverpool in the 68th minute when he failed to test Sorensen with a header at the back post and sent his effort across the face of the goal instead.

Kitson came close for Stoke in the 74th minute when he headed over the bar following a throw-in from Delap.

Four minutes later Glenn Whelan saw his 25-yard free-kick beat Reina but finish marginally off-target.

Liverpool almost took the lead in the 85th minute but Gerrard's free-kick rattled the crossbar.

Then on the stroke of full-time his effort came back off the post after a flick-on by Torres.

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