Schwarzer stands tall as Liverpool miss magic touch

Liverpool 0 Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

A typical Fulham trip to Liverpool goes like this. They travel, they talk optimistically about achieving great things, they perform woefully. Before yesterday they had played 27 times at Anfield and never won a match, so you could forgive them for making much out of comparatively little.

Some 0-0 draws are like victories and Fulham certainly embraced this like one, their players going en masse to celebrate with their supporters at the final whistle. At the same time the Liverpool players walked quietly from the pitch.

It was a downbeat ending that was in keeping with a performance from Rafael Benitez's team. Even their knack of snatching late goals to rescue shoddy shows deserted them yesterday. At the end the only consolation was that Chelsea, too, had failed to win at home. "We and Chelsea will regard this as a lost opportunity," Benitez said. "It was a bad day."

Not if you were in Fulham colours it wasn't as Roy Hodgson, their manager, warmly conceded. "I'm pleased we could see a game through," he said. "Quite a few times we've played well away from home, conceded a goal in the last five or 10 minutes and have gone home deflated. This time we got an away point against a team who are potential champions so we have to be satisfied."

The one thing that Liverpool did not resemble yesterday was potential champions. Deprived of Steven Gerrard, who had not recovered from the muscle tear that kept him out of England's win in Germany, they lacked drive, wit and energy. Benitez blamed it partly on international commitments but as Hodgson pointed out, three of Fulham's better players, Brede Hangeland, Jimmy Bullard and John Pantsil, had made the longest journeys in midweek.

No matter what the personnel, the usual Liverpool home performance this season has been an indifferent first half followed by a vastly improved second and the opening 45 minutes stuck rigidly to type. Misplaced passes and muddled thinking littered the home team's display and by 36 minutes the Kop were calling for Xabi Alonso, who was on the substitutes' bench. Maybe it was their start which lulled Liverpool into a state of complacency because they could have been ahead after four minutes when Fabio Aurelio hit a 40-yard pass to his opposite full-back, Alvaro Arbeloa, who pulled the ball back and Dirk Kuyt missed with a shot from 10 yards.

Whatever the reason, Liverpool managed only one other moment of real threat in the first half when Aurelio's 29th minute cross ricocheted to Robbie Keane and he was stopped by a Mark Schwarzer charge.

Indeed, Fulham would have put forward several opportunities of their own as evidence that they had edged the first period. A clever overhead flick from Bullard fell to Andy Johnson after 19 minutes and if he could have gained better contact with the ball as he turned, it would probably have been a goal. Bullard, too, was denied only by a flying save from Pepe Reina after 35 minutes.

Fernando Torres, starting his first game since the start of October, burst into life just after the interval when he curled a shot just over the bar. In the 51st minute the Spaniard beat two Fulham defenders on the left and his shot had such power that Schwarzer had to beat the ball away for a corner.

Though Liverpool pressed there was no suggestion they would get a breakthrough. Alonso came on with 25 minutes to go but without making any great difference and Anfield was emptying in quiet resignation long before the end. When Liverpool were held by Stoke City the players left the pitch to widespread booing but at the end yesterday there was only perfunctory abuse. Maybe like the players, the supporters were jaded too.

Attendance: 43,589

Referee: Mark Halsey

Man of the match: Zamora

Match rating: 5/10

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