Potters pile pressure on Rafa
Huth's late leveller compounds Benitez's misery
Last Updated: 16/01/10 5:57pm
Huth: Late leveller
Liverpool's miserable week continued at Stoke as Robert Huth snatched a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw.
A tame encounter at the Britannia Stadium saw the Reds offer a lacklustre response to their midweek cup exit to Reading, and Sotirios Kyrgiakos' opener never really looked like being enough to settle their nerves.
Benitez, wary of the axe edging towards his neck, set out with defence at the forefront of his mind, while Stoke's starting XI was littered with combative talent.
That did little to help the entertainment value, with the first half devoid of attacking endeavour.
Lucas felt he was deserving of a penalty after tumbling under a challenge from Danny Higginbotham, but all he got for his troubles was a yellow card as both sides struggled to create openings in the final third.
The second period also started in cagey fashion, with the desire to avoid defeat outweighing the drive to secure a win.
Liverpool, though, edged ahead after 57 minutes when Thomas Sorensen failed to deal with a Fabio Aurelio free-kick from the right and Kyrgiakos bundled the ball into the back of the net from close range.
It would not be enough, as Higginbotham towered above the Reds' defence to nod a floated corner back across goal in the last minute of normal time and Huth was on hand to poke home.
Dirk Kuyt should have won the game for the visitors with virtually the last touch of the game, but he somehow hit the woodwork when presented with a free header six yards out.
This game was all about Benitez's future. His club are at an all-time low and the vultures are demanding his head.
Liverpool needed to do something to arrest an alarming plunge in form, with the manager and the club's status on the line.
Stoke fans were holding up giant P45s aimed at Benitez as this crucial game started, with Liverpool's fans belting out 'You'll Never Walk Alone' in open defiance of the position their team have got themselves into.
But Liverpool are a nerve-racked team these days, and that showed when Aurelio had the chance to send Javier Mascherano away on his own but tried a ridiculous 40-yard attempt to expose an out-of-position Sorensen that sailed miles wide.
Liverpool struggled against Rory Delap's long throws from the start, Jose Reina failing to get a positive punch on them, while at the other end the raw David Ngog was being left on his own in an uneven battle with Stoke's giant defenders.
Lucas had two efforts blocked from the edge of the box, but too much of Liverpool's possession was wasted with woeful passing.
Stoke, though, always looked dangerous when the ball was in the air, or at Tuncay's feet.
Stoke lost Delap with a groin strain, Liam Lawrence sprinting into the action, and a minute later Abdoulaye Faye also went off with a recurrence of a back problem to be replaced by Andy Wilkinson.
The half's only real flashpoint came when Liverpool had Lucas booked by referee Lee Mason for diving in the box, although replays suggested he was caught by Higginbotham's challenge.
But without their star men, and way short on confidence, Liverpool's attempts to play a passing game constantly disintegrated against a combative Stoke.
The Potters' renowned long ball game is always likely to be successful against any team in such a state and Liverpool constantly looked stretched under the barrage.
Stoke started the second period intent on taking control, and Lawrence saw a 20-yard free-kick deflected wide.
But then Liverpool took a leaf from Stoke's book, going ahead from a free-kick after 57 minutes.
Aurelio curled the ball towards the near post and Sorensen did not gather cleanly under pressure from Kyrgiakos, the Greek defender getting the final touch on the line to score his first goal for the club.
Stoke responded when Tuncay nodded over after Ryan Shawcross flicked on a Salif Diao throw.
Stoke replaced Mamady Sidibe with Ricardo Fuller after 66 minutes to freshen up their attack.
Diao was booked for dissent before Fuller tested Reina with a flicked header at the near post after 75 minutes.
Liverpool then sent on new boy Maxi Rodriguez for his first taste of English football after 78 minutes in place of Philipp Degen.
Stoke hurled their big men forward for every corner and Liverpool were forced into desperate defence at times, with Martin Skrtel and Kyrgiakos giving everything.
Liverpool brought on Alberto Aquilani for Ngog after 87 minutes, Stoke piling on the pressure now with constant, dangerous set-plays.
And eventually Liverpool cracked. Matthew Etherington's corner was headed back across goal in the 89th minute for Huth to score from close range.
Reina was booked for time wasting but Kuyt's near miss almost provided a final dramatic twist in injury time.
|Stoke City||Team Statistics||Liverpool|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|2||Shots on Target||1|
|3||Shots off Target||5|
Barclays Premier League
|11||West Ham United||34||44|
|13||West Bromwich Albion||34||37|
|19||Queens Park Rangers||34||27|