Liverpool draw a blank in Prague - European - Football - The Independent

Liverpool draw a blank in Prague

Sparta Prague 0 Liverpool 0

Kenny Dalglish waited 9,394 days to get the chance to manage Liverpool in Europe but after a turgid Europa League goalless draw against Sparta Prague he must have wondered why he looked forward to it so much.

The 59-year-old missed out on continental competition in his first spell as Reds boss because of the ban on English clubs after the Heysel disaster.

Despite the significance of his debut, this last-32 first-leg match in the Czech Republic is unlikely to live long in Dalglish's or anyone else's memory.

Goalkeeper Jose Reina was Liverpool's best - and busiest - player with a few good saves, but even then he was not severely tested.

The visitors' play was disjointed and lacked a cutting edge but crucially they kept a clean sheet and Dalglish will be hopeful next week's home leg, when captain Steven Gerrard should be available after a groin problem, will provide greater satisfaction.

In the biting cold of the Generali Arena the game never really got going and although Liverpool tried to gain control by holding on to possession they never managed to make any ground by doing so.

In fact, it was Sparta who created the few chances, most of which were created from wide positions as full-backs Ondrej Kusnir, on the right, and the particularly effective Manuel Pamic advanced at regular intervals.

That was in contrast to Liverpool's two wide defenders, with Glen Johnson, back in his more familiar right-sided role, and Danny Wilson, a centre-back playing on the left, rarely getting the opportunity to go forward.

Pamic gave Johnson problems in the first half and almost capitalised to great effect in the 17th minute.

Martin Abena slid a pass inside the England defender and Pamic raced into the penalty area to drill a low shot from a narrow angle which Reina parried to safety.

Even the normally unflappable Spain international was not immune to the general untidiness which littered Liverpool's play and when he could only parry Kusnir's deep cross into the path of Pamic he was relived to see the defender blaze over with his weaker right foot.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos was next to the Reds' rescue, putting in a diving block to halt former Reading midfielder Marek Matejovsky's shot as it travelled goalwards.

With a lack of central midfielders, having left Gerrard and expectant father Christian Poulsen at home, the last thing Dalglish needed was to see Fabio Aurelio forced off with an injury in the first half.

It prompted a reshuffle with Raul Meireles withdrawn from his advanced role, from where he had scored five goals in six previous matches, to allow Joe Cole to come on.

The second half was little different from what had gone before except for Liverpool enjoying slightly more possession.

But the successful passing game which had been so evident in their six-match unbeaten Barclays Premier League run never really got going.

Sparta continued to pose the greater threat, however, and Leony Kweuke headed just wide from range on the hour.

Liverpool's best chance came with 20 minutes to go when Lucas Leiva's lofted pass picked out Johnson on the right of the penalty area.

He weaved inside but instead of shooting with his left foot - with which he has scored some screamers from range - he opted for the outside of his right and poked the ball past the far post.

The match was held up for a couple of minutes after a flare let off by Sparta fans behind Reina's goal clouded the pitch in thick smoke and there would have been few complaints had it blanked out the rest of the game.

When play did resume Reina had to be alert to stop Kweuke's shot on the turn from a corner, while Matejovsky's 25-yard effort curled just wide of the goalkeeper's right-hand post.

Dalglish switched to a back three for the last six minutes, with Slovakian Martin Skrtel receiving a predictably hostile welcome from the Czech crowd when he replaced Ngog.

Kamil Vacek almost snatched a winner with a long-range strike which whistled past the upright but Liverpool held on for a clean sheet which makes life slightly easier for them in a week's time.

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