Dismal Liverpool draw in Utrecht
Liverpool escaped with a goalless draw in their Europa League Group K clash in Utrecht after another disjointed and disappointing performance.
A point in the Stadion Galgenwaard, where the hosts had won their previous six matches, was no disgrace but it was hardly one of those classic, gritty away performances in Europe.
Roy Hodgson's side, who had five successive Europa League victories prior to this game, were dominated for long periods and their clean sheet owed much to goalkeeper Jose Reina and a goalline clearance from Raul Meireles. Liverpool have now gone four matches without a victory in all competitions and Hodgson's blueprint for reinvigorating the team after Rafael Benitez's departure in the summer still looks very much like a work in progress.
Without their captain Steven Gerrard, left behind to rest on Merseyside, the side looked devoid of ideas and even the presence of Fernando Torres for his first Europa League start of the campaign did not help. The only real positive to come out of the game was that the five-time European champions and winners of this competition on a record-equalling three occasions, extended their impressive statistics against Dutch clubs.
"I thought it was a good point," said Hodgson. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. It wasn't a dull 0-0. Utrecht did well. Utrecht were very committed. We saw a good team."
Since losing their first encounter against Ajax in 1966 they have now not been beaten in 12 matches against teams from the Netherlands. But that run came close to being ended on a number of occasions as Utrecht were the better side from the off.
In only the fifth minute the prolific Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, scorer of 13 goals in 14 games this season, was given half a chance when Christian Poulsen gave away possession but the 21-year-old striker could only divert Dries Mertens' left-wing cross wide of the far post.
Liverpool fashioned three or four openings - none of which could be described in any way as good - with Meireles both shooting and heading at goalkeeper Michel Vorm either side of off-target efforts from Lucas Leiva and Joe Cole. Torres also curled a shot wide after turning and shooting from the edge of the area.
But the best first-half chances fell to Utrecht with Jan Wuytens' volley only ruled out for Jacob Mulenga's foul on Martin Kelly, makeshift left-back in the absence of the injured trio of Paul Konchesky, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio. And had it not been for Reina saving well at close range from Mertens after Dirk Kuyt, returning to his former club, was slow to react to a loose ball in the penalty area from a corner Liverpool would have been behind at half-time.
Torres had been quiet all night and, early in the second half, when the ball did drop to him in the penalty area from Glen Johnson's cross he hacked wildly at it with his weaker left foot and ballooned a shot over. But Liverpool were soon on the back foot again with Reina diving at the feet of Wolfswinkel to stop Mulenga's low cross while Meireles cleared off the line from Michael Silverbauer's header when his goalkeeper came for Mertens' corner but missed.
Typically, considering his fortunes this season, Torres' one chance came in the 57th minute but he was denied by a great reaction save from Vorm when Kuyt picked him out with a low, near-post cross. To compound the Spaniard's frustration referee Duarte Gomes awarded a goal-kick.
He was almost gifted another opportunity moments later when Mihai Nesu left his back-pass short but the striker's first touch took the ball out of play as he attempted to round Vorm.
As the match entered its closing stages it was Utrecht who looked the most likely scorers. Maxi Rodriguez's first touch after replacing Cole with eight minutes to go saw him attempt an ambitious overhead kick which failed to hit the target.
Liverpool were happy with the draw but Mulenga should have snatched victory only to drive wide of Reina's left-hand post with only the goalkeeper to beat.