Stoke City goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen produced a memorable display to thwart Liverpool as Tony Pulis' team battled for a 0-0 draw at Anfield on Saturday. Just seven days after sealing a 2-1 victory against European champions Manchester United, Liverpool could find no way through the packed Stoke defence.
The draw ensured Liverpool missed the opportunity to pull three points clear of overnight leaders Chelsea ahead of the Londoners' clash with United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The victory against United dismissed the notion that Liverpool could not deliver the goods against the very best, but winning championships is about more than raising your game against the top teams.
If Liverpool are to win their first league title since 1990 this season, then it will be their results against the likes of Stoke that will ultimately decide their destiny. In recent campaigns, too many points have been dropped against the Premier League's also-rans, so the visit of Pulis's team was an acid test of Liverpool's credentials.
Had luck been on their side, Liverpool could have taken the lead as early as the second minute when Steven Gerrard curled in a free-kick from 25 yards. But as the midfielder wheeled away to celebrate what he believed to be his 100th goal for the club, the linesman raised his flag to disallow the goal.
It was a let-off for Stoke and they gained confidence from their good fortune and, when Mamady Sidibe dispossessed Xabi Alonso 30 yards from goal, Dave Kitson should have done much better with a free strike on goal from 20 yards that he wastefully sent high over the Liverpool crossbar.
Liverpool struggled to overcome Stoke's resolute defending and determination. Pulis' team will never win awards for the beauty of their football, but their style is certainly effective.
Stoke's only problem is when they have the ball at their feet. With a game-plan so reliant on the long ball forward, anything that sees them with the ball on the grass appears to leave their players confused as to what to do next. Still, Liverpool were just as bemused by the challenge in front of them and, aside from long-range efforts from Gerrard and Alonso -- both well-saved by Sorensen -- they barely threatened a first-half goal.
Coach Rafael Benitez opted against changes at half-time, preferring to give his players the chance to make up for their poor first-half showing, and Liverpool visibly upped their game in the early stages of the second-half. But the opening goal continued to elude them, with Robbie Keane, Fernando Torres and Kuyt all seeing good opportunities wasted or well saved by Danish keeper Sorensen.
Keane, still waiting to score his first goal since arriving in a £20.3-million switch from Spurs, was unlucky not to break the deadlock when his close range volley from Alvaro Arbeloa's cross was saved brilliantly by Sorensen. Chance after chance went begging for Liverpool and, sensing the possibility of an upset, Pulis introduced pacy Jamaican forward Ricardo Fuller with twelve minutes left to play in a bid to sneak a winning goal.
Fuller certainly worried Liverpool during his brief cameo, but not enough to find a way through to goal. But Stoke still emerged with a point and they will treasure that almost as much as a victory.