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Rafa's Reds held by toothless Tigers

09 May 2010 18:32:00

Rafa's Reds held by toothless Tigers

iverpool's dismal season ended as it began, with a whimper, as they were second best in a goalless draw at relegated Hull on Sunday. If this was to be Rafael Benitez's last match in charge - and his future remains very much in doubt - it would be a sad end to his Anfield reign. Hull had the better chances with Mark Cullen missing two close-range chances in the first half, while the closest Liverpool came was when Alberto Aquilani hit the crossbar just before the interval and Steven Gerrard a post moments before the final whistle. It was the Reds' worst finish to a season since they came seventh in 1999. The writing was on the wall from the moment they lost their opening match at Tottenham - the team who have replaced them in the Champions League places - and their efforts at the KC Stadium showed they had actually got worse since then. Jack Robinson, 16, was sent on as a late substitute and became the Merseysiders' youngest first-team player in the process, though the Liverpool fans had little else to cheer. With both sides having little to play for - at best Liverpool could finish sixth, their worst league performance since 1999 - the opening exchanges lacked any real urgency. However, young Tigers midfielder Tom Cairney was relieved when his interception of Ryan Babel's pass to Nabil El Zhar, starting for the first time this season, flew wide of Matt Duke's left post. That was a lot closer than Sotirios Kyrgiakos came with his header from Gerrard's corner, with the ball rolling out for a throw-in feet from where the Liverpool captain had delivered it. El Zhar was at least trying to make the most of his opportunity and a right-foot 20-yard shot was tipped over by Duke in the 18th minute. From Gerrard's corner the Moroccan's mis-hit shot bounced up to Dirk Kuyt whose back-header was nodded over the crossbar by George Boateng on the goalline. Aquilani, who had been quiet all half, side-footed just wide from a weak Hull clearance in the 28th minute while Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink headed straight into Jose Reina's hands as both teams continued to create nothing more than half-chances. Cullen should have twice put Hull ahead in the space of a minute but wasted two glorious openings from close range. First Cairney's deflected shot found the striker on the edge of the six-yard area but he allowed the ball to get trapped under his feet and Daniel Agger recovered to dispossess him. Then Cullen rose unchallenged to head Will Atkinson's cross wide from an even shorter distance. Aquilani should have done better than hit the crossbar in added time from 12 yards out while Agger blazed the rebound high into the crowd. Six minutes after the interval Vennegoor of Hesselink diverted Bernard Mendy's right-wing cross past Reina but wide of the far post from a narrow angle. All that needed to be said about the quality on show was evident when Hull fans began a conga early in the second half. But in truth the home fans had more to cheer about and they were almost celebrating when Mendy tested Reina from 35 yards and the Spain goalkeeper had to tip the ball wide. In the closing stages most of the pressure was exerted by Hull, with Andy Dawson going close with a low shot from a quickly-taken free-kick. Robinson made his record-making appearance with three minutes to go, replacing Babel, but it was probably the only bright spot on yet another desperately disappointing day for Liverpool. Gerrard, whose body language told its own tale, fired just wide and also hit the post before the end but Benitez's side never really threatened throughout. Whether Gerrard and Benitez are around to repair the damage next season remains to be seen but even if they are they will need plenty of reinforcements and, given the state of the club's finances, that seems a remote possibility.


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