Middlesbrough 0 Liverpool 0: Benitez unable to cure Reds' homesickness

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The Independent Online

Twice in his post-match appraisal, Rafa Benitez wistfully gave mention to Anfield, and it's not difficult to see why. It was the M62 and not the Yellow Brick Road back to Merseyside, but clearly for Liverpool there's no place like home.

It is approaching five years since Liverpool scored at the Riverside, and with their current approach, it appears Middlesbrough want to emulate them.

When a team experiences a run of ineptitude, as Benitez's side are in front of goal away from home, their continuing misfortune is by tradition converted into minutes and compared with a host of activities that might be carried out in the same timescale.

Benitez could have forced his players to watch a desperately un-adventurous Middlesbrough six times, a chilling prospect and perfect motivational tool to end their current malaise, in the near nine-and-a-half hours since Robbie Fowler's opening-day penalty at Sheffield United.

"In the second half it was almost like we were playing at Anfield," said Benitez, allowing himself thoughts of home, where Liverpool are unbeaten in six Premiership games, gathering 16 of their 18 points.

Middlesbrough added to the illusion that the Tees had been traded for the Mersey. So happy were they to adopt the role of visitors with their safety-first approach, they should have offered the opposition use of their changing room.

Granted a return to central midfield, Steven Gerrard impressed but could not single-handedly halt a run which is in danger of overshadowing their fine work on home soil and harming hopes of a top-four finish, Liverpool's title aspirations long since gone.

"If we play like this, we'll win 99 times out of 100," said Benitez. The Spaniard's percentages are optimistic, but his appraisal fair, as Mark Schwarzer saved from Jermaine Pennant, Mark Gonzalez and Daniel Agger, while Jonathan Woodgate cleared off the line from substitute Peter Crouch.

"I'm sure the goals will come soon," insisted Dirk Kuyt, guilty in the first-half of a miss and a dive, both glaring, whose dazzling display this weekend was confined to helping turn on Liverpool's Christmas lights.

Paradoxically, the hosts were rewarded for their head in the sand approach with the contest's defining opportunity, but Aiyegbeni Yakubu produced an air shot after Jose Reina beat out Jason Euell's second-half header. Gareth Southgate conceded that victory would have flattered, as his attentions turn toward Wednesday's Premier League ruling on his job. Anything other than dispensation to continue until the end of the season as he works towards the requisite coaching badges would be a significant shock. "We've had two positive results and getting the nod on Wednesday would feel like a hat-trick," he said.

Middlesbrough's goal record of just 10 in 13 league games suggests old habits die hard for Southgate, who clearly needs to put more emphasis on attack, but an impressive defensive record suggests Middlesbrough are not missing the manager's playing input.

Not that Southgate has any plans to come out of retirement. "Our back specialist went past me like a dose of salts in a staff game on Friday," he said. "It was definitely the right decision."

Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Davies (Huth, 45), Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Morrison (Maccarone, 76), Boateng (Cattermole, 72), Rochemback, Arca; Euell; Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Mendieta.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Agger, Carragher, Riise; Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Gonzalez (Zenden, 84); Bellamy, Kuyt (Crouch, 79). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Hyypia, Paletta.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Man of the match: Woodgate.

Attendance: 31,424.

Liverpool board set to discuss £250m takeover

The Liverpool board is due to meet on Thursday to decide on the club's future. The American billionaire George Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, is in pole position to buy the club, but the board will also discuss offers from Dubai International Capital, the private equity arm of the Arab state, and John Miskelly, the Belfast-based property millionaire.

It is believed that Gillett will offer around £250m - £150m up front for the club's shares plus the club's debt, which is approaching £100m. He would also fund the construction of Liverpool's proposed £200m, 60,000-seat stadium in Stanley Park.

Gillett will part-fund the deal by raising a substantial amount of debt, which may alarm fans, who would fear a situation similar to Malcolm Glazer's debt-laden takeover of Manchester United.

As well as his ice hockey franchise, Gillett owns a media company and is the one of the largest producers of "chicken products" in the United States. He also owns six ski resorts in the country, several golf courses, car dealerships in Colorado, and a landscape and garden company.

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