Manchester City 0-0 Liverpool
The eagerly-awaited Premier League top-four showdown at Eastlands on Sunday turned into a dull 0-0 draw between Manchester City and Liverpool.
Gripped by the fear of losing, the North-West rivals did not manage a shot on target during the first half and only threw off their shackles in a half-hearted search for victory in the final 15 minutes.
But even the introductions of Craig Bellamy and Fernando Torres failed to lift the game from its overall torpor.
Pepe Reina’s smart save to deny Emmanuel Adebayor represented the biggest thrill of a pitiful afternoon that convinced no-one of either club’s worthiness to sit at Europe’s top table, and proved how shrewd Sky and ESPN were not to bother screening it live.
When the teams were announced, it confirmed a tale of two substitutes. The sad thing was, when an opening period containing exactly zero shots on target ended, the respective benches were still the biggest talking points.
Torres was relatively straightforward.
A knee operation that was supposed to rule him out until March had eased sufficiently for Rafael Benitez to put him on the bench, if only for use in emergency.
Predictably, the issues surrounding Bellamy are less clear-cut.
It has now been established beyond question the Welshman’s own dodgy knees can no longer stand up to the exhaustive nature of a Premier League season.
Also taken for granted is Bellamy’s combustible nature.
According to Roberto Mancini, a midweek argument about the best way to treat the injury was nothing serious. Other reports tell a different story.
Bellamy’s presence in Mancini’s squad at least offered hope any souring of relations is repairable, although as a capacity crowd digested a truly awful opening period, the game itself was in desperate need of his involvement.
Given the scrap now taking place for that coveted fourth Champions League spot, a sense of trepidation could have been forgiven.
What was less easy to ignore was the woeful passing, the negativity and the limited vision. The sight of Steven Gerrard and Maxi Rodriguez running into each other on one Liverpool attack just about summed the whole thing up.
Gerrard was responsible for the visitors’ best chance, sending over the corner that Martin Skrtel glanced wide at the far post after Shay Given had failed to come and collect.
At the other end, the only moment to enthuse about was a Pablo Zabaleta shot that would have gone wide had it not hit Emmanuel Adebayor. In such instances, anything can happen. This time, the trajectory of the ball barely altered.
Although it really could not have been worse, the first 15 minutes of the second-half was no better than what had gone before.
Benitez was already preparing to introduce Yossi Benayoun for his first appearance since breaking a rib in the same FA Cup defeat to Reading that marked the start of Torres’ absence when Adebayor let rip from 20 yards.
Without question it posed the biggest threat to either goal, but Reina proved equal to it, plunging to his right to make an excellent one-handed save.
Benayoun’s arrival followed shortly afterwards then, to a standing ovation, Bellamy was introduced.
One Gerrard shot and six minutes later, Torres returned to the fray.
Now, other than a bit of rustiness, there were no excuses for either side being so restricted in their approach.
Almost immediately there was a greater sense of purpose, as both sides began to recognise a victory rather than concentrate purely on the damage of defeat.
Skrtel managed to recover his ground just in time to rob Adebayor as the Togo man was about to shoot. From the corner, Adebayor headed Vincent Kompany’s cross over.
Had referee Peter Walton seen an already booked Javier Mascherano drive his studs into Gareth Barry’s ankle, Liverpool would have ended up playing the final few minutes with 10 men.
As it was, Mascherano remained on the field until the bitter end.
But the only lucky ones today were those who missed it altogether.