Hodgson takes heart from point as Reds struggle

Utrecht 0 Liverpool 0
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The Independent Football

Peering over the girders of the ground in Utrecht is a tower block that has the word "conclusion" in big red neon letters running along its side. It was hard to know what conclusion to come to here last night once the final whistle sounded on an ordinary performance by Liverpool that produced a very good result.

Bill Shankly, having seen the Ajax of Johan Cruyff destroy Liverpool 5-1 in the Amsterdam fog in 1966, pronounced the Dutch champions, "the most defensive bloody team I've ever seen." Roy Hodgson's conclusion was that this was, "a good point against a good team."

"It wasn't a dull 0-0; they were committed as we knew they would be," added the Liverpool manager. "It was a good point to take back to Liverpool but, if we had taken any more, Utrecht would have felt very hard done by."

Despite what was often a dull, ragged and unimpressive display by the biggest team to have come to the Galgenwaard, Hodgson is sitting more comfortably in the Europa League than the Premier League. Steaua Bucharest's 3-3 draw with Napoli gives Liverpool a two-point cushion at the top of the group and, as he stared into a television camera he observed that "we have done better than Celtic."

In a sense, Hodgson was right. Utrecht, one of the Netherlands' great university cities, may be one of the most genteel places Liverpool have ever come to play football. However the Galgenwaard is the place where they once placed the gallows in Utrecht and, as they proved when eviscerating Celtic here in August, they are a dangerous proposition who probably should have won this match.

They had a goal disallowed, saw Raul Meireles, who was one of Liverpool's better players, clear a looping ball that came off Michael Silberbauer's chest off the line, while Jacob Mulenga almost sprinted through to score when the game momentarily stopped with most players expecting the referee to blow for a foul on Ricky van Wolfswinkel.

At the end Utrecht celebrated as if it were a victory and completed a lap of honour, while those who had travelled from Merseyside prepared to make for the trains to Amsterdam still waiting for the show of strength to signal what the new Anfield regime is capable of.

It has to be more than this. Liverpool are a side that by their manager's admission plays without wingers and looked to have exhausted its repertoire of ideas long before the half-time whistle. Glen Johnson looked utterly uncertain, perhaps the third-best right-back on the pitch, given that Martin Kelly, who was on the opposite side of the defence, is a specialist in that position. Hodgson noted that Utrecht's crossing was sometimes exceptionally dangerous and often Liverpool seemed stretched without actually cracking.

As ever, the focus was on Fernando Torres. Sometimes, he looked half-engaged and then, when Mircea Nesu under-hit a back pass, he reacted like a cat pouncing on a butterfly. It just rolled too far. Of the two concrete opportunities that fell his way after the interval, one finished halfway up the stand behind Michel Vorm's goal, the other after a fine pull-back from Dirk Kuyt was well saved at the near post. By no means was it a commanding display; but there were flashes of the old magic lost somewhere in South Africa. At the end, the striker seemed to limp off to the physio, an action unnoticed by his manager. "I don't spend every minute of every waking hour watching Fernando Torres," he said with a half-smile. There are, however, some who do.

For the Galgenwaard, the perfect result would have been for Utrecht to win 2-1 and Kuyt to have scored against the club that helped to make him. He was given a standing ovation for simply running on to the pitch. It was a display of very deep and very touching affection, the kind of love for a departed player that seems to exist very rarely in Kuyt's adopted country.

Utrecht (4-1-3-2): Vorm; Cornelisse, Wuytens, Schut, Nesu; Lensky (Nijholt, 82); Duplan (Maguire, 69), Silberbauer, Mertens; Van Wolfswinkel, Mulenga. Substitutes not used Sinouh (gk), Demouge, Van der Maarel, Keller, Vorstermans.

Liverpool (4-1-3-2): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Kelly; Poulsen; Meireles, Lucas, Cole (Maxi, 81); Kuyt, Torres. Substitutes not used Jones (gk), Jovanovic, Kyrgiakos, Babel, Ngog, Spearing.

Man of the match Mertens

Referee D Gomes (Portugal)

Attendance 23,662

Match rating 6/10

Group K

Results so far Liverpool 4 Steaua Bucharest 1, Napoli 0 Utrecht 0; Utrecht 0 Liverpool 0, Steaua Bucharest 3 Napoli 3.

Liverpool's remaining fixtures 21 Oct Napoli (a); 4 Nov Napoli (h); 2 Dec Steaua Bucharest (a); 15 Dec Utrecht (h).