Liverpool outplayed by spirited Stoke
Stoke picked up their first point of 2009 in an enthralling game at home to league leaders Liverpool. Captain Steven Gerrard hit the wood work twice for Liverpool, but not to be out done Rory Delap crashed a shot against the bar for the potters in a game that saw both sides create plenty of chances.
Tony Pulis made 9 changes from the team that lost to Hartlepool in the F.A Cup. Dave Kitson returned to the first team after a knee injury and new signing Matthew Etherington started on the left of midfield. Liverpool left their two most expensive signings Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane on the subs bench, with Captain Steven Gerrard starting just behind Dirk Kuyt.
Liverpool made the much brighter start with some quick passing and moving and almost caught Stoke out early as nerves got the better of the home team. A dangerous cross from Albert Riera saw Dirk Kuyt ghost past Shawcross and plant his header inches wide from 6 yards with the goal gaping.
It took Stoke a little while to settle down but when they did they almost took the lead. Liverpool failed to deal with the fist of several dangerous Delap throws, the first of the evening wasn`t cleared and the ball eventually fell to the former Derby and Southampton player with only Jose Reina to beat, however he lacked composure and crashed his shot against the under side of the cross bar leaving Stoke fans bewildered at missing such a great chance. Liverpool reacted quickly and the ever lively Dirk Kuyt forced a decent stop from Sorensen after some poor Potters defending.
Stoke were relentless for the rest of the first half as they dominated possession and forced Liverpool deeper into their own half. Ryan Shawcross then had a headed goal ruled out for offside after an accurate chip from Matthew Etherington to pick him out.
The Stoke centre pairing of Glenn Whelan and Amdy Faye made a good partnership with Faye breaking play up and Whelan constantly feeding Kitson, Cresswell and Etherington in the final third of the pitch. The pair outplayed the in-effective Liverpool pairing of Lucas and Javier Mascherano, the latter who was being watched in the stands by Argentina national coach Diego Maradona.
Stoke had a wonderful chance at the beginning of the second half through Dave Kitson. After a increased amount of pressure from Cresswell, keeper Jose Reina scuffed his clearance straight to Kitson, the striker who is in much need of a goal, rounded Reina but took the ball too far away from goal and his shot found the side netting.
Liverpool were again under the cosh at the beginning of the second half as Etherington played numerous balls into the box which was dealt each time by Liverpool`s giant centre half Sami Hyypia.
The introduction of Fernando Torres lifted Liverpool who perhaps should have broken the deadlock. Brazilian midfielder Lucas wasted a glorious opportunity from point blank range while Hyypia fired along way wide much to the amusement of the home fans. Dave Kitson again came within inches of his first Stoke goal as he rose to meet a Delap throw-in only to see his glanced header shave the cross bar. Kitson put in a tireless shift upfront and played his best game for Stoke since his 5.5 million pound move.
The Stoke defence looked stable throughout the second half with first choice centre backs Abdoulaye Faye and Ryan Shawcross winning everything over Dirk Kuyt. Also young right back Andy Wilkinson put in a faultless performance to back up a great game on Boxing Day against Manchester United, even though he was sent off for two bookable offences, his passion and aggression have seen him become a serious rival for Andy Griffin for the first choice berth at right-back.
Liverpool hit the woodwork for the first time as they cranked up the pressure. Steven Gerrard received a hostile reception from Stokes legion of supporters but almost shut them up with a curling free-lick that clipped the top of the bar. The Stoke fans were brought to their feet as Matthew Etherington made his way off the pitch to be replaced by Liam Lawrence, this was Lawrence`s first game at the Brit for 4 months after suffering an ankle injury.
Glenn Whelan almost struck Gold as his free-kick just didn`t curl back enough but clipped the outside of the post leaving Jose Reina stranded. Liverpool came so close to undeservedly snatching a late win as Gerrard was sent through by Torres he trickled a shot past the helpless Sorensen only to see it cannon the post after what seemed a whole lifetime in getting there.
A well deserved point for Stoke sees them rise to 17th place on 21 points. The games don`t get any easier for the Potters as next they travel to London for back to back away games at first Chelsea and then Tottenham.
Stoke City:Sorensen, Wilkinson, Abdoulaye Faye (c), Shawcross, Higginbotham, Delap, Amdy Faye, Whelan, Etherington (Lawrence 77), Cresswell, Kitson (Pugh 89).
Subs not used: Simonsen, Griffin, Sonko, Tonge, Olofinjana.
Liverpool:Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Arbaloa, Benayoun (Babel 78), Lucas, Mascherano, Riera (Torres 59), Gerrard (c), Kuyt
Subs not used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Keane, Plessis, El Zhar.