STOKE CITY FC 1 LIVERPOOL 1
You'd have thought Rafa Benitez' job was on the line,from all the media froth over the last few days.Chants from the Stoke fans were less than charitable...."You're getting sacked in the morning"....."You're just a fat spanish waiter"......This outcome of this game could decide his future at Liverpool ......
Fair enough Liverpool were without three of their stars,Torres,Gerrard,and Benayoun....but Benitez paid Stoke the compliment of setting out his (still not inexpensive) team and tactics,not to lose.Tony Pulis was similarly conservative in his approach,replacing Lawrence with Salif Diao.
Both teams worked hard,huffed and puffed,but largely cancelled each other out.Neither goalkeeper was seriously overworked throughout.
Stoke had a strong opening ten minutes,with Etherington looking threatening,and Tuncay marauding about the pitch.Once Liverpool had them shackled Stoke did not offer much by way of a threat.For the most part the first half was even with virtually no shots on goal.
Stoke pressed at the beginning of the second period,but it was Liverpool who took the lead on 57 minutes.A Higginbotham tackle out on the Stoke left was judged to be a foul.There is little doubt that he played the ball first before bringing the man down.The resultant free kick was driven in low and hard.It reached Sorensen,as five players bore down on him (one of the approaching Liverpool players having his leg extended in a somewhat threatening way, which would certainly have bothered me if I was in his place).
Sorro clearly didn't fancy the contact much.First to the ball, he was,but with an ineffectual,half hearted push away (rather than gathering the ball which he could have managed with a little more resolution).The loose ball was bundled into the Stoke net by Kyrgiakos.
A scruffy goal very similar to Jerome's recent winner for Birmingham.The Stoke team had a right to expect rather better from their keeper.
As always Stoke came back strongly,pushing Liverpool into their own half,forcing a series of throw-ins and corners,all producing little until the 90th minute.Etherington's corner from the right seemed to be clearing everyone in the area until Danny Higginbotham rose,despite being under challenge,to head back across goal.The ball found Huth unmarked.His prod into the net for the equaliser was met with unbridled delight around The Brit.
There was still time for Liverpool to break out.Unbelieveably Kuyt headed against the post,when it seemed easier to score.In more confident mood he would have buried it.
Benitez left out Agger.A very shrewd move as it turned out for his replacement, Kyrgiakos, had an outstanding game,an absolute rock in defence popping up everywhere,usually when it mattered.Not to mention his goal of course.Mama Sidibe was unable make much of an impression on him.It is significant that he was less at ease with Fuller,tricky as ever, coming on as sub,who made much more happen,winning freekicks,building the pressure and corner count from which we eventually profited.
A fair result in the end though.Another point toward safety for The Mighty Potters.