Liverpool displayed the fighting spirit, grit and determination that has been lacking over recent weeks, to earn themselves a vital point at the Britannia Staidum. Only Chelsea and the in form Birmingham City have taken all 3 points from the Britannia Stadium this season, and Liverpool were only 2 minutes away from becoming the third team to win at the Potteries.
The Reds once again lacked quality, especially in attack, however this is understandable with Liverpool's best attacking players either injured or lacking the neccesary match fitness to compete with the ultra physical Stoke side.
It was a good weekend for the Reds as both Villa and Spurs could only draw home matches that they were expected to win, against West Ham United and Hull respectively, and Manchester City experienced defeat for the first time under Roberto Mancini, losing 2-0 at Goodison Park.
Rafa started with 9 defensive players, as Kuyt and Ngog were the only attacking players in the starting line up. The Reds battled throughout and got into a real fight with the home side. This led to a poor game for the neutral to watch, but it was good to see the team showing a little heart and determination. Liverpool have been poor defensively in recent matches but against Stoke they coped well for most of the match, with Sotirios Kyrgiakos, in for the injured Agger, impressing at centre back, and scoring the crucial goal that gave the Reds a slender lead to hang on to.
Liverpool had a stone wall penalty not given in the first half as Lucas was sliced down in the box by Danny Higginbotham. Lee Mason, one of the worst referees in the Premier League who has persistently performed below par, failed to award the penalty, and even had the cheek to show a yellow card to Lucas for diving.
That was the only significant action in an instantly forgettable first half however the second half was slightly better. The Reds took the lead after 57 minutes when the Greek defender Kyrgiakos scored his first goal for the club, scrambling in a Fabio Aurelio free kick. After taking the lead the Reds went too defensive and went back into their defensive shell, like they have so often this season.
Stoke piled on the pressure with long throw ins and corners bombarding Liverpool's penalty area, and Liverpool's otherwise strong defence cracked in the 88th minute. Another Stoke corner was swung into the box and the ball was eventually tapped into the net by former Chelsea defender, Robert Huth. However this was yet another poor decision from Lee Mason, as the corner was obviously a goal kick. A shot came in from Ricardo Fuller and the ball went wide, without a deflection. Admittedly, it was a difficult angle for the ref, but he should have been able to tell that it was a goal kick because the ball wasn't deflected behind. It was yet another awful decision from a League 1 quality referee, who's decisions cost Liverpool a crucial 3 points.
By this point both Alberto Aquilani and new signing Maxi Rodriguez were on the pitch to add an extra dimension to Liverpool's attack. The Reds pushed for a winner in the remaining miniutes and nearly grabbed a priceless goal in the last minute. Brazillian Fabio Aurelio, who had a solid game on the left wing and added quailty with his crosses, swung a cross into the box which Dirk Kuyt headed onto the post from 6 yards out. The Flying Dutchman should have done better but Liverpool were denied a stone wall penalty once again, as Lee Mason amazingly failed to award the Reds a spot kick after Lucas was clearly pushed over in the box.
It was another display that lacked attacking quality however at least all of the players put in the effort and hard work that is expected of them. When a few more attack minded players are fully fit Liverpool should start winning games again, if they continue to show the heart and determination that they displayed on Saturday.