Brave Hart denies Liverpool

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart produced an 86th minute wonder save to deny Dirk Kuyt a late winner for Liverpool as the two challengers for Champions League qualification fought out a tense 0-0 draw at Eastlands on Sunday.

Hart, 20, has been confirmed ahead of Sweden international Andreas Isaksson as first-choice goalkeeper at City by manager Sven Goran Eriksson and the youngster showed why with a terrific reflex save to keep out Kuyt's close range header towards the end of the Premier League match.

But for the goalkeeper's heroics, Liverpool would have left Manchester with a victory that they barely deserved after being frustrated by the home side throughout the absorbing encounter.

Instead they had to settle for a draw that left them 10 points behind league leaders Arsenal heading into the New Year.

Unbeaten in the league until mid-December, successive defeats against Reading and Manchester United had put Liverpool, fourth and a point ahead of their hosts, off the title pace and this clash with fifth-placed City was a stern test of their credentials for a top four finish.

Under former England manager Eriksson, City have emerged as a surprise contender for a UEFA Champions League spot and their success has been built on a formidable home record which had seen them win nine and draw one of their league games at home this season prior to the visit of Rafa Benitez's team.

And the confidence generated by that unbeaten run was evident in the first-half as City took the initiative in a cagey affair, with both teams wary of making the first mistake.

The home side's three-man midfield behind lone striker Darius Vassell kept Liverpool penned back in their own half for long periods, but the chances they created were never of the clear-cut kind likely to test goalkeeper Jose Reina.

Each time City broke forward, their attacking forays crashed against a red wall of Jamie Carragher and Alvaro Arbeloa at the heart of the Liverpool defence and chances for Elano, Vassell and Stiliyan Petrov were all snuffed out by the visitors' defenders.

Dunne and dusted
With the muscular Richard Dunne and Micah Richards giving Liverpool striker Fernando Torres a bruising afternoon, Benitez's team struggled to get their 26 million pounds forward into goalscoring positions.

But the Spaniard's pace was always a threat and, with Liverpool content to wait to hit City on the counter-attack, the suspicion was that Torres would get behind his markers at some stage.

And with Liverpool starting the second-half at a rapid tempo, the breakthrough appeared inevitable, but a five minute spell quickly fizzled out to nothing, despite two glorious chances in the space of a minute for Torres.

The first came in the 48th minute when Fabio Aurelio's cross into the penalty area beat Richards at the near post and was dummied by Kuyt for Torres 12 yards out. But the former Atletico Madrid star saw his close range effort blocked.

A better chance came to Torres sixty seconds later when Steven Gerrard's throughball released him in the area, but the striker's chipped effort bounced agonisingly wide of the post.

When Richards conceded a free-kick on the edge of the area two minutes later following a clumsy foul on Torres, Gerrard had the perfect opportunity to score from 20 yards.

But in keeping with the game, the England midfielder's set-piece was close, but not close enough to open the scoring and give Liverpool what would have been a priceless victory.