Lacklustre Liverpool held by Fulham as City eye Europe

Afp April 13, 2010

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League are virtually over after Fulham held the Reds to a 0-0 draw at Anfield. Roy Hodgson’s Fulham battled brilliantly for a draw, inspired by Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who pulled off a series of outstanding saves to effectively end Liverpool’s topfour hopes.

That was enough to force Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez to concede that Liverpool will almost certainly miss out on a place in Europe’s elite club competition. “The next question will be about fourth place and it will be very difficult. It is not in our hands, it will depend on the other teams,” said the beleaguered manager. “The difference is a bit too much now maybe.

I think it will be very, very difficult so we have to be realistic. Formidable Fulham Liverpool could not break down the resilient London side, who had Schwarzer to thank for a string of fine saves. Liverpool also had to contest this encounter without Fernando Torres who picked up a knee injury during his sublime display against Benfica in Liverpool’s 4-1 Europa League victory on Thursday.

The Spanish forward had scored nine goals in his last seven appearances for Liverpool and 18 in just 22 Premier League encounters this season and his absence certainly affected the Reds’ attacking threat. David Ngog replaced Torres as the lone striker but he lacked his team-mate’s cutting edge, shooting wide twice early on well placed. In terms of possession, Liverpool were by far the better side but in the opening 20 minutes they did little with it.

Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard linked up well several times on the right wing but the final killer ball was absent as Liverpool failed to shine. After 22 minutes, Alberto Aquilani has one ambitious overhead kick comfortably stopped by Schwarzer just 60 seconds before the Australian was called into action again as he brilliantly blocked a Maxi Rodriguez effort to keep the scores level. Schwarzer was impressive again after half an hour as he clawed away a Javier Mascherano effort from outside the box that would have sneaked into the top corner.

Fulham barely ventured into Liverpool’s half as it became increasingly clear that they were only interested in obtaining a point, something they managed as they blocked a late flurry of attempts. City in the reckoning The result left Liverpool six points behind Manchester City, the current holders of the final Champions League qualifying position with a game in hand.

City moved four points clear of fifth placed Spurs, who have a game in hand but still have to travel to Eastlands, with a thumping 5-1 win over Birmingham. Mancini’s fourth placed side have now scored 14 goals in three matches ahead of a vital run of matches.