Liverpool racism apology overshadows bore draw
Liverpool 0 Stoke City 0
Sunday 15 January 2012
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Kenny Dalglish's first home game since his return to the Liverpool helm and in the intervening 12 months his team have lost just once at Anfield. The problem is the number of games they have actually won.
This drab stalemate was their seventh draw in 11 home league matches this term, spelling 14 points dropped at Anfield and providing another check to the momentum of a club with Champions League qualifying ambitions. Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen barely had a save to make as Liverpool missed the chance to climb above Arsenal into sixth place, at least for 24 hours.
Indeed the most noteworthy aspect of this disappointing Anfield afternoon was arguably found not on the pitch but in the match programme where Liverpool, perhaps stung by criticism of their position during the Luis Suarez affair, offered a PR offensive with Dalglish, captain Steven Gerrard and managing director Ian Ayre all reiterating the club's stance against racism.
Dalglish, in his manager's notes, and Ayre, in a two-page spread, both offered an apology to Tom Adeyemi, the Oldham Athletic player allegedly abused by a 20-year-old man in the Kop during the FA Cup tie at Anfield on 6 January.
Ayre added: "It is important to all us here that nobody is left in any doubt as to where Liverpool Football Club stands on this. Such behaviour simply will not be tolerated."
Ayre's words provided some sense of recognition that Liverpool's reputation had been harmed by the Suarez case – "it has led some people to the perception that Liverpool Football Club's stance on racism and discrimination is not as firm as it is" – and he went on to call for good behaviour from his club's supporters when Liverpool host United in the FA Cup fourth round on 28 January. "Despite the outcome of recent events, it is essential that we conduct ourselves as a club, as a team and as fans in a manner that is befitting of this great club."
So to what little action there was, and evidence of the on-field impact of the Suarez case. With Daniel Agger missing, Martin Skrtel was joined by Jamie Carragher and Uruguayan Sebastian Coates in a three-man central defence. But keeping an unambitious Stoke side out proved much less a problem than prising them open at the other end.
It does not say much for Dalglish's faith in Andy Carroll that he chose Dirk Kuyt, without a league goal since May, to lead the attack, supported by Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing in a 3-4-2-1 formation that looked to Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique to provide width.
Liverpool might have been spared the frustrations that followed had Charlie Adam reacted more quickly when Steven Gerrard's early corner dropped his way, the Scot allowing the ball to bounce away off his leg.
What followed was an increasingly disquieting spectacle for the home fans as Stoke, well-organised and hard-working, sat deep and limited Liverpool to a series of long shots.
Matthew Etherington became the first player to warm either goalkeeper's hands, albeit shooting straight at Pepe Reina. Not until the 37th minute was Sorensen called to make a save, from Henderson's long-range effort, and it summed up Liverpool's first half when Johnson rolled a ball across the edge of the Stoke six-yard box with not a single red shirt in sight.
Carroll's introduction in the 58th minute led almost immediately to a loud penalty shout as he grappled with Robert Huth as a corner came in and went to ground. It proved a recurring theme of a desperate final phase – ball comes in, players tangle, Kop appeals – but Howard Webb was not listening and Dalglish had no real complaints. "It was our responsibility to break them down and on the day we weren't good enough," he admitted.
Kuyt should have made the difference with 13 minutes remaining but steered his header wide from a deflected Enrique cross, ensuring a satisfactory ending to Tony Pulis's 400th game as Stoke boss. "That's four points and two clean sheets in the bag [against Liverpool] and that's a great achievement for us," he reflected.
Liverpool (3-4-2-1): Reina; Skrtel, Carragher, Coates; Johnson, Gerrard, Adam, Enrique; Henderson (Bellamy, 74), Downing (Carroll, 58): Kuyt.
Stoke (4-5-1): Sorensen; Woodgate (Wilkinson, 79), Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Walters, Palacios (Whitehead, 61), Whelan, Delap, Etherington (Fuller, 87); Crouch.
Referee Howard Webb.
Man of the match Shawcross (Stoke).
Match rating 4/10.
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