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PRESSURE PILES ON RAFA AFTER STOKE COMEBACK

By Football Talk

Robert Huth scored a 90th minute equalizer to earn Stoke a hard fought point against Liverpool adding further pressure to under-fire Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.

Following their shock midweek FA Cup defeat to Reading, you would have expected a response from Liverpool. Although they may have been the better side, few could argue that Stoke deserved a point after frustrating the Reds with their physical approach and limiting Liverpool to only 1 shot on target. The opening exchanges were lacking any real quality and the ball spent more time in the air than on the deck. The best Liverpool could muster were a few blocked long range efforts, and they were struggling to cope with Rory Delap’s long throws. Fortunately for Rafa Benitez’s men he went off with a calf strain mid-way through the first half and was replaced by Liam Lawrence.

Without Torres and Gerrard Liverpool struggled to create anything of note, and the strike force comprising of just David Ngog did little to worry the stoke defense. The only real talking point came when Lucas went down under a Higgingbothom challenge inside the area, referee Lee Mason booked the Liverpool man for diving but replay’s suggest it was a harsh decision. The half time whistle came and few would have been disappointed, a poor game with little quality so far. Hopefully the second half would bring more excitement.

The first chance of the half fell to Stoke when a Lawrence free-kick was deflected wide. But it was a free-kick at the other end that would bring the games first goal, although Stoke will feel that Higgingbothom got the ball before taking out Degan, but a free-kick to Liverpool was awarded. Aurelio curled in a lovely cross into the near post where Stoke keeper Sorenson failed to take control of the situation under pressure from Kyriakos, the Greek defender bundling the ball across the line to give Liverpool an undeserved lead.

Almost immediately Stoke should have been level, Tuncay heading over from 6 yards following a Shawcross near post flick. Ricardo Fuller replaced Mamady Sidibie and he brought some much needed quality to the Stoke front-line, testing Reina with a header shortly after coming on. Stoke began to pile on the pressure with a succession on corners and throw ins, but Liverpool were hanging on for what would have been a priceless 3 points.

With only minutes remaining the pressure finally told on Liverpool. Following another Etherington corner, the ball was headed back across the box by Higginbothom and fell to Huth unmarked at the far post to tap in for a deserved equalizer. But there was still time for Liverpool to win it when Aurelio sent in a superb cross from the left which found Kuyt, the Dutch forward looked odds on to claim a dramatic winner but his header smashed against the post and rebounded to safety.

It finished 1-1 and a fair result on the balance of play. Liverpool looked solid enough at the back but were lacking in quality going forward without their star men. Stoke were typically hard working and physical but did enough to warrant a point. The pressure mounts of Rafa Benitez and next up is a crucial game versus top-four contenders Tottenham on Wednesday at Anfield.

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