Sunday, February 22, 2009

Old boy dents liverpool's title hopes

Liverpool's title dreams appear all but over after they were held at home by Mark Hughes' Manchester City at Anfield.

Hughes finally saw his expensive side produce a display of substance after an erratic season, and it did a big favour for his former employers Manchester United.

United will have relished this performance by their neighbours, which could have given the crown to the Old Trafford club.

Liverpool started the game eight points behind the champions, and this one point leaves them a seemingly impossible mountain to climb with just 12 games left.

City took the lead early in the second half through former Liverpool forward Craig Bellamy, which left Liverpool with an increasingly desperate fight on their hands.

Eventually Dirk Kuyt scored his ninth goal of the season to save the club's 14-month unbeaten home league record, but as Anfield emptied at the end, the muted response of their fans said it all.

Liverpool made four changes from the side that won at Portsmouth last time out.

There was still no Steven Gerrard with his hamstring injury, while Lucas, back from suspension, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera returned to the starting line-up in place of Ryan Babel, David Ngog, Fabio Aurelio and Daniel Agger.

City made one enforced change from the side that drew 2-2 at FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Cup on Thursday, Nigel de Jong replacing the suspended Shaun Wright-Phillips.

City's defensive frailties shown in Denmark were far from evident in this Barclays Premier League clash.

Despite being under plenty of early pressure, Shay Given was rarely called into action.

Riera headed wide from an Alvaro Arbeloa cross, under intense pressure from Micah Richards. Then Jamie Carragher's long ball down the right was touched on by Yossi Benayoun for Torres to fire wide first time.

Kuyt was next away on the right, with Richard Dunne clearing the near post cross from Riera's toes, while both Lucas and Yossi Benayoun failed to connect with crosses.

The pressure mounted and Kuyt drove wide after being set up by Torres before Richards then chested away a Riera hook in the six-yard box.

City had weathered Liverpool's early fire and eased their way into the game. They should have scored after 30 minutes when Andrea Dossena lost possession and the ball was switched immediately to Robinho.

The little Brazilian had been very quiet in the early stages, but he jinked inside to lay a pass invitingly into Stephen Ireland's stride.

The Irishman had a free run at Jose Reina, but the Spanish keeper blocked the first shot, with Ireland firing the rebound into the side netting.

Torres set up Riera and Benayoun, both chances flying wide before Kuyt missed with a far-post header to end a frustrating half for Liverpool.

Four minutes into the second period, City were ahead. Robinho fed the ball into the box for Vincent Kompany to turn it into the path of Craig Bellamy.

And the former Liverpool forward struck a 49th-minute shot from the corner of the penalty area that flicked off Arbeloa, but the effort was clearly on target and flew past Reina into the far corner.

This was the fourth time this season that Bellamy has scored against a former club, having netted for West Ham against Newcastle and Blackburn, and for City also against Newcastle.

Ireland had an effort disallowed for offside, Liverpool leaving gaps now as they went forward looking for an equaliser.

Kompany was booked for a high challenge on Martin Skrtel, with Liverpool having brought on young winger Nabil El Zhar for Riera, with the Moroccan soon booked for a foul on Pablo Zabaleta.

City, who had gradually grown into this game, started to look like a team which has had £120million spent on it in under a year.

They flowed forward, looked fierce and committed, while Liverpool lacked the leadership of Gerrard.

But the Reds responded with fight of their own. After 78 minutes Benayoun got away on the left and drove in a cross that Torres missed in the six-yard box, allowing Kuyt to force home the equaliser.

Kuyt them forced his way past countryman De Jong, and cracked in a fierce 25-yarder that Given beat away. Given's next save, a close range block from Benayoun, was even better.

But when Benayoun hurled himself at the rebound, the ball looked to hit Dunne's arm as it deflected away.

Liverpool had Aurelio and Babel on for Dossena and Mascherano by now, a point just not good enough. Kuyt spun to fire across goal and a foot wide.

City then took off Robinho and sent on Felipe Caicedo up front for the final minutes as Liverpool searched in vain for a winner.

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