English Premiership

Stoke frustrate Liverpool

2010-01-16 16:59
Rafael Benitez (AP)

London - Robert Huth deprived Rafael Benitez of a vital victory as Stoke claimed a dramatic equaliser against Liverpool a minute from time at the Britannia Stadium to force a 1-1 draw.

Huth pounced from close range to ensure a frustrating end to a tortuous week for Benitez with Stoke's first ever Premier League goal against Liverpool.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos had appeared set to ease the pressure on the Liverpool manager with his first goal for the club. But a sustained period of late pressure from Stoke was rewarded right at the death.

In the face of severe criticism from former players and just days after a humiliating FA Cup exit to Reading, Benitez had attempted to bring light relief to Liverpool's troubled season on the eve of this daunting trip.

Before the corresponding fixture last season, Benitez produced a piece of paper from his pocket and proceeded to deliver a rant aimed at title rival Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager.

At his pre-match media conference at the club's Melwood training base, Benitez once again reached for his pocket and produced a piece of paper.

The difference this time was that the Spaniard did it as a joke, an attempt at raising the gloom that has descended on Anfield.

Despite Benitez's attempt at humour, the pressure remains on the Liverpool manager and the failure to beat mid-table Stoke will only lead to more calls from disgruntled fans for his six-year reign at Anfield to be brought to an end.

Alberto Aquilani and new signing Maxi Rodriguez started on the bench while Phillip Degen, Lucas Leiva and Fabio Aurelio all started on a day when Benitez was without five first-team players: Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson.

A trip to the bearpit of the Britannia Stadium is enough to test the most fragile of individuals and Stoke are a team that, despite their deficiencies, are masters at playing to their strengths.

A series of long throw-ins from Rory Delap typically unnerved the Liverpool defence early on in a frantic start.

Chances were at a minimum after such a cagey opening but Benitez was fidgeting with fury midway through the half when Lucas was clearly hacked down in the penalty area by Danny Higginbotham.

Not only did referee Lee Mason refuse to award a penalty but he booked the Brazilian for diving - emphasising the poor fortune Benitez is currently experiencing.

Stoke's mission to pile more agony on Benitez suffered a blow soon after that penalty decision when Abdoulaye Faye and Delap were both forced off injured.

The Potters, one of the lowest scorers in the Premier League, failed to test Reds goalkeeper Jose Reina once in the first half.

Liverpool were forced to weather an early aerial bombardment in the second period but stunned the noisy home crowd into silence in the 57th minute.

Aurelio's free kick was fumbled by Thomas Sorensen and Kyrgiakos bundled the ball over the line despite the frantic attempts of Higginbotham to hack clear.

Stoke did not test Reina until the 75th minute when substitute Ricardo Fuller headed Matt Etherington's corner straight into the goalkeeper's arms.

But a late bombardment ended with an equaliser when Huth stabbed in from a yard out after Etherington's corner had been headed back across the goalmouth by Higginbotham, then flicked on by Salif Diao.

Stoke pressed hard for a winner but it was Liverpool who could have snatched victory in the fifth minute of injury-time. Aurelio got clear on the left and curled in a superb cross that Dirk Kuyt, from barely five yards out, contrived to head against the post.

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