Benitez bullish despite more Reds woe

Stoke City 1 Liverpool 1: Huth's late equaliser, Kuyt's even later miss and two penalty denials deprive Liverpool of urgently needed win

It could have been worse, as Rafa Benitez intimated when he suggested that, in normal circumstances, a point from what is widely acknowledged as a difficult fixture might be a reward he could accept as "not bad".

But these are not normal circumstances for Liverpool. Their season reduced to a desperate attempt to finish in the top four, the team Benitez has built around a too-heavy reliance on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard needed to earn three points for their manager as urgently as at any time in his tenure.

The outcome, therefore, could not have been much more difficult to swallow, especially after the stadium clock rolled towards the last minute with Liverpool a goal to the good and, it appeared, about to deliver the required result despite being denied an entirely legitimate penalty. But Benitez right now needs luck as much as the commitment of his players and his ran out in the 89th minute as Stoke, rallying in the way they know best by pounding the penalty area with a series of throw-ins, corners and free kicks, managed to crack Liverpool's defensive shield.

On the touchline, the Spaniard's professional inscrutability held as firmly as ever but, even though Liverpool's fans had chanted his name in defiance of some voices calling for him to be sacked, the sag of the shoulders told its own story. "In football sometimes things go for you and sometimes against you," he said afterwards. Then, as if to confirm that sentiment with another painful twist, Dirk Kuyt hit the post with a diving header when he should have snatched the points back for Liverpool, the miss compounded by another rejected penalty appeal.

"It is hard to take because with 89 minutes gone we were winning and then there is another penalty incident that could have changed everything, so we get one point when we could have had three," Benitez added.

This time it was less clear-cut. Where referee Lee Mason looked to have made a poor judgement when he ruled that Lucas, brought down by Danny Higginbotham, had dived in the first half, awarding him a yellow card for his trouble, a perceived push on the same player was more difficult to rule upon. Benitez, however, was hurting. "We should have had two penalties and in my opinion the referee made the wrong decision both times," he said. "But there is nothing you can do to change this and we can only move on to the next challenge and hope to play with the same character."

In that way, at least, Benitez had detected cause for encouragement. Hit badly by injuries, ruling out Gerrard, Torres, Daniel Agger and Yossi Benayoun, Liverpool for much of the game looked on a par with their opponents, whose game in their own admission is built on not much more than honest endeavour. But, after the humiliation of Wednesday's defeat by Reading had added the FA Cup to the Championship, the Champions League and the Carling Cup on Liverpool's "not this year" roll-call of silverware, their manager was pleased not to have been outfought.

But how far they can go with character their only obvious credential remains to be seen. The scruffy goals of the kind bundled in by defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, on a rare start, when Thomas Sorensen dealt poorly with Fabio Aurelio's free kick, will not come along in every game.

Football of quality came only in fleeting moments, with the £20 million Alberto Aquilani again on the bench and Ryan Babel, after his unwise Twittering, left out all together. They looked vulnerable always to set pieces, even though Stoke had lost a key weapon when Rory Delap, their long throw specialist, limped off injured in the first half. Ultimately, when Matt Etherington delivered a corner from the right, Higginbotham headed the ball back across goal and Robert Huth stabbed home from close range.

Benitez did not dwell on negatives, though. "The main thing today was to show character and react and in that way the players were fantastic, they worked very, very hard," he said.

Attendance: 27,247

Referee: Lee Mason

Man of the match: Lucas

Match rating: 6/10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleComedian launches stinging attack on PM
Life and Style
The collection displayed Versace’s softer side, with models wearing flowers and chiffon dresses in unusual colourings
fashionVersace haute couture review
News
Andy Murray shakes hands after defeating Andreas Seppi of Italy in the third round of Wimbledon, Saturday 4 July, 2015
Wimbledon
Arts and Entertainment
'The Leaf'
artYes, it's a leaf, but a potentially very expensive one
News
Yoko Ono at the Royal Festival Hall for Double Fantasy Live
people'I wont let him destroy memory of John Lennon or The Beatles'
News
Could Greece leave the EU?
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'