A bad week ended disappointingly for Liverpool yesterday afternoon.
Following a humbling against Real Madrid in midweek, Rodgers was hoping for a response from his troops. Unfortunately they couldn’t muster a sufficient one, as Steve Bruce’s Hull side held them to a goalless draw at a downbeat Anfield.
The main team news was that Rodgers kept faith with errant striker Mario Balotelli despite several commentators calling for him to be dropped after his woeful performance and scandalous shirt swap on Wednesday. Many thought Rickie Lambert deserved a place in the starting line-up, but he began on the bench, surprisingly alongside Coutinho, who was unexpectedly replaced by Emre Can. Liverpool only really got going when the pair entered the action on the hour mark.
Just as they had done against Madrid, Liverpool started the game well and were the better side for the opening 20 minutes, creating two decent goal scoring chances. First, Dejan Lovren saw his header from Gerrard’s corner cleared off the line by Elmohamady, before Balotelli’s shot from a tight angle was beaten away by Hull’s third-choice goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic after the Italian had been fed by Sterling.
|Balotelli worked the keeper with a shot from a tight angle|
The atmosphere remained very subdued, however, and Liverpool struggled to build up any sort of momentum despite dominating possession, while Hull were happy to spoil the game and play on the break. Their strategy seemed to pay dividends, as the Tigers finished the half strongly and arguably should have entered the interval in front.
They had a couple of good chances to take the lead before the break, Livermore firing at Mignolet when a shot a yard either side of the Belgian would have breached the net and Huddlestone seeing Skrtel deflect his 25-yard strike inches wide of the target.
There was very little change in the flow of the game after the restart. In fact, the only occurrence of note before the arrival of Coutinho and Lambert on the hour mark was when Balotelli was booked for clobbering Alex Bruce with his arm. He could quite easily have been sent off, but thankfully referee Neil Swarbrick ruled that it was not intentional.
Fortunately, the double substitution seemed to breathe life into Liverpool generally and Balotelli in particular. Frustratingly, although for once he couldn’t be faulted in terms of effort, the number 45 clearly has absolutely no confidence whatsoever in front of goal at the moment, and that showed as he squandered numerous gilt-edged goal scoring opportunities during the final half hour.
Twice in quick succession, insufficient contact with the ball from Balotelli meant that he failed to find the net. First, he hurled himself towards the ball when a corner kick was flicked in his direction but couldn’t quite get anything on it. Then, he headed thin air when firm contact with the cross would have seen the ball nestle in the net. It was disappointing stuff from the £16 million summer signing, but at least he was getting himself in the right positions.
Liverpool cranked up the pressure during the closing stages and pinned their visitors back in their own half, but should have tested Hull’s inexperienced keeper much more than they did. Jakupovic had only four shots on target to deal with, and he did so proficiently every time.
Getting increasingly desperate, the Reds even reverted to underhand tactics to try and force the issue, Henderson rightly receiving a yellow card following an embarrassing dive. Sterling and Coutinho both went close with good shots, but Balotelli was inevitably the centre of attention as the time remaining for Liverpool to scrape all three points dwindled away.
The Reds had reason to feel aggrieved on 86 minutes when referee Swarbrick refused to point to the spot despite Balotelli being bundled over in the penalty area. Admittedly, he went down a little easily, but he certainly had a case.
Ultimately, though, Liverpool had no one to blame but themselves for failing to steal a win, as Balotelli somehow spurned a glorious chance to redeem himself by scoring with almost literally the last touch of the game. Coutinho’s left wing cross put the ball on a plate perfectly for Balotelli six yards out, but he completely missed it, to the utter frustration and bewilderment of the majority of the 44,591 in attendance.
|Why always him?|
It was a horribly fitting way to end a week that Kopites will want to quickly forget.