Lacklustre Reds held by Utrecht

The Reds may have given children free tickets for the dead rubber

but even they will have felt short-changed by the disappointing

clash they witnessed. Manager Roy Hodgson had pledged to play his

one fit star name, Fernando Torres, but had a last-minute change of

heart after being persuaded otherwise by his medical staff. With

the Reds already qualified for the last 32, it led to a turgid and

uninspiring night which highlighted the lack of depth in the squad.

Hodgson had initially planned to give Torres pitch time to

rediscover his goalscoring touch – goalkeeper Jose Reina was also

expected to start but he was left out of the squad altogether – but

was forced to watch the entire 90 minutes from the bench instead.

There was some semblance of logic behind the idea but to play the

striker in a game which was a dead rubber, with Liverpool already

through as group winners, was always going to be a risk. “I had a

change of heart [on starting Fernando Torres],” admitted Hodgson

prior to kick-off. “I was seriously considering giving him a start

but I had a talk with our fitness people and they convinced me it

may not be the wisest move.” Torres’ absence robbed Liverpool of

their one genuine attacking threat and, as a result, the first half

was not one which will live long in the memory of those young fans

who benefited from the club’s generous ticket offer. The one piece

of excitement they witnessed was when Milan Jovanovic, who scored

against Steaua Bucharest in Romania a fortnight ago, rattled the

crossbar with an eighth-minute long-range shot. Aside from that the

home side never established a rhythm, which was partly down to the

fact Hodgson made 10 changes to the team which lost to Newcastle at

the weekend with only Martin Skrtel, captaining the team on his

26th birthday, surviving. The team still contained the likes of Joe

Cole, Ryan Babel, Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen and Fabio Aurelio

but also included 19-year-old Nathan Eccleston, making his first

start, and 18-year-old Danny Wilson on only his second appearance.

It contributed to a disjointed performance which very rarely rose

above mediocre. Utrecht, for their part, arrived at Anfield knowing

they could not qualify for the last 32 but even with that freedom

they too could not muster a display to excite their 4,000-strong

travelling contingent. And they suffered a blow just before

half-time when top scorer Ricky van Wolfswinkel left the pitch on a

stretcher and was taken to hospital with a suspected broken

collarbone after falling awkwardly. Hodgson made a change at the

interval but it was not the one the crowd were wanting, with

Sotirios Kyrgiakos replacing Skrtel. Babel was first to threaten 10

minutes after the restart when his run to the edge of the penalty

area saw him fire wide of Michel Vorm’s right-hand post. Eccleston

then departed to allow another promising youngster, Dani Pacheco,

to enter the fray. But Babel was looking Liverpool’s most likely

goalscorer and he came within inches of connecting with Kelly’s low

cross into the six-yard box. Hodgson’s final substitution had more

than a touch of sentimentality about it, giving Dirk Kuyt a run-out

for the final 18 minutes against his former club when he replaced

Jovanovic. It posed the question quite why Torres was included in

the match squad at all. Late on Cole looked certain to score but

had his low shot charged down by Keller after Vorm had spilled

Aurelio’s cross. That summed up the England midfielder – and

Liverpool’s – night.