Middlesbrough 0 Liverpool 0: Gerrard's central casting fails to improve same old story

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The Independent Football

Steven Gerrard may have been reinstated to his favoured central role, but it failed to revive his side's stupor away from Anfield. With clowns to the left of him, and jokers to the right, it was more a case of stuck in the middle with you for the Liverpool skipper.

It is now 40 minutes shy of 10 hours since the visitors scored in the Premiership outside the confines of their Merseyside home, and that goal came from the penalty spot on the opening day of the season, at Sheffield United. Their title aspirations long since gone, their hopes of the top four will be threatened if they continue to fritter away points on enemy soil; their tally so far this season is a risible two from a possible 21.

In mitigation, Liverpool deserved to beat a desperately unadventurous Middlesbrough, with Gerrard at the heart of the majority of his side's threatening moments, which far outweighed any produced by the excessively cautious hosts.

It took one of several fine saves from Mark Schwarzer in the Middlesbrough goal to keep out a stinging Mark Gonzalez volley after the midfielder had been picked out by another astute Gerrard pass after the break, as a familiar tale of woe unfolded for Liverpool in their failure to convert any of their openings. Peter Crouch came closest to rewarding their dominance, only for the substitute's 82nd-minute header to be cleared off the line by the excellent Jonathan Woodgate.

Despite their reticence to throw men forward, Middlesbrough created the clearest chance to score after 52 minutes when Yakubu contrived an air-shot from three yards with the goal at his mercy after Jose Reina had produced an exceptional save from Jason Euell's header.

Perhaps Boro's Nigerian striker did not have the heart to complete his simple task, as anything more than a point for the hosts would have grossly misrepresented their contribution.

With little else to occupy the mind in a staccato opening too regularly punctuated by offsides, Gerrard's return to his favoured habitat proved the main point of interest as Liverpool set about addressing their abysmal efforts on the road this season. Euell eventually managed to time a run to avoid the attentions of the assistant referee, but Reina's full-stretch dive diverted the forward's cut-back which had been intended for Yakubu, unmarked six yards from goal.

Gerrard displayed his value when employed in the heart of the action, as a probing long-range pass picked out Craig Bellamy in the Middlesbrough area. Sadly for the visitors, Dirk Kuyt pulled his team-mate's inviting chest down badly wide from a dozen yards midway through the first half.

Gonzalez produced Liverpool's most notable moments of threat before the interval, with a long-range shot that required Schwarzer's full attention, in addition to a miscued cross which momentarily appeared destined for the top corner before landing on the roof of the net. Boro's keeper was much the busier, and he had to act quickly to shovel Jermaine Pennant's swift shot on the turn away at his near post as Liverpool dominated.

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