Now that Liverpool have finished their season on the road to Hull, beach ball time is here. The writing was on the ball for Rafael Benitez and his team of underachievers when Darren Bent's shot was deflected past Jose Reina by an alien object bearing the LFC crest up at the Stadium of Light in October. Still, few Reds could have suspected back then, after defeat number four, that they would be heading for their holidays on the back of a Premier League campaign of such deflation – and with everything at Anfield so up in the air.
On Humberside yesterday at least the crestfallen runners-up of 12 months ago avoided ending their slump of a season with a 12th loss in the league. Against a Hull side heading back to the Championship, Liverpool laboured to a draw, finishing in seventh place, a point shy of Aston Villa. As their fans get ready to hit the beaches and their captain, Jamie Carragher, prepares to come out of international retirement for a World Cup campaign, the Merseysiders are in something of a Mark Knopfler position. With debts of £473m and with the future of their manager and their two key players in a state of uncertainty, Liverpool are in dire straits.
In the aftermath yesterday, Benitez insisted that he wanted to stay at Anfield rather than head off to Juventus but his position as leader of the Reds appears to be as dependent on as many delicate meets as that of Raith Rovers' most celebrated fan. "I was in a meeting with the chairman the other day and we will have another meeting this week and talk again," he said. "I would like to stay if everything is fine. I do not want to sell Fernando Torres or Steven Gerrard. The chairman is very clear that he does not want to sell them."
But do Torres and Gerrard want to stay? "That is a question for them," Benitez replied.
There are big question marks at Hull too, although whoever takes charge of team affairs at the debt-ridden club next season will have a crop of young talent to develop in the second-flight. Mark Cullen, the 18-year-old striker who scored on his first league start at Wigan last Monday, showed flashes of promise and ought to have added another goal to his account, steering a header wide with only Jose Reina to beat just before the interval.
At the other end, Alberto Aquilani smacked a 20-yard drive off the crossbar but for most of the afternoon Hull looked the most likely winners. Bernard Mendy was a constant driving force up the right flank for the Tigers and the French full-back had Reina at full-stretch with a long-range effort midway through the second-half.
Liverpool plodded along at testimonial match pace until Gerrard shifted into gear in the final few minutes, dragging one shot across the face of the home goal and hitting the left post with another. A winning finale would have been much more than they deserved.
Hull City (4-4-2) Duke; Mendy, Mouyokolo, Gardner, Dawson; Atkinson, Cairney, Boateng, Kilbane (Geovanni, 76); Venegoor of Hesselink (Fagan, 84), Cullen. Substitutes not used Myhill (gk), McShane, Barmby, Cooper, Olofinjana.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1 ) Reina; Mascherano, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Agger; Gerrard, Lucas; Babel (Robinson, 88), Aquilani (Pacheco, 74), El Zhar (Ngog, 63); Kuyt. Substitutes not used Cavalieri (gk), Degen, Skrtel, Ayala.
Referee A Marriner (Birmingham)
Man of the match Mendy
Man of the match: Mendy.
Jamie Carragher, poised to emerge from international retirement, put in a solid shift, although he needed his right arm to deflect wide a George Boateng shot. Steven Gerrard played in second gear until the last few minutes, when he smacked a right-foot drive against the woodwork.Reuse content