Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw by a stubborn Hull City on a frustrating Saturday afternoon at Anfield.
All the build up to the match centered around whether Mario Balotelli would start, following his shirt swap controversy in midweek.
The Italian played the 90 minutes, and missed the best opportunity of the match with the final kick of the game – failing to make contact from a Philippe Coutinho cross from six yards.
That summed up what was an incredibly frustrating afternoon at Anfield, with the Reds enjoying plenty of possession and a huge number of set pieces, but no way through the Hull defence.
The first half was slow paced an in truth rather dull, with the Reds struggling to find any sort of rhythm as they attempted to get over their Champions League hangover.
Dejan Lovren missed the best opportunity of the first half, seeing his header from a corner cleared off the line. Mario Balotelli came close to firing the opener as well, making a rare run in behind the defence to latch onto Raheem Sterling’s shot. The 24-year-old fired a decent strike, but the ball was comfortably saved at his near post by Hull’s third choice goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic.
The Reds were then denied what looked a clear case for a penalty, when Adam Lallana was caught by Alex Bruce a long time after the England man had delivered his cross. However referee Neil Swarbrick was not interested in what was a muted appeal for such a rash challenge.
The Reds took until the 61st minute to really click into gear, when Brendan Rodgers introduced Rickie Lambert and Philippe Coutinho.
Steven Gerrard missed the target with two efforts from outside the box, of which the latter took a deflection.
The Liverpool skipper was a constant feature of the final 30 minutes, more often than not with his set piece delivery.
Balotelli looked to pick out Dejan Lovren when controlling a Gerrard free kick at the back post, but the Croat swung and missed the ball completely from eight yards.
Next it was the turn of the lively Philippe Coutinho, who headed over the bar from a tight angle from a Gerrard set piece when it looked as though it was easier to score. But a closer look at the replay showed that the slightest of touches from the impressive Jakupovic was enough to put the Brazilian off.
Gerrard almost provided the breakthrough himself, steaming onto a lovely touch by the effective Rickie Lambert. The 34-year-old held off the first challenge, but was denied by a superb late block by James Chester as he shaped to shoot what would have surely been the winner.
Lambert played the link up man again, this time picking out Balotelli in the box who looked set to write the script all Kopites had been hoping for. The striker went down under a challenge from Curtis Davies, and once again referee Swarbrick waved away the Reds penalty appeals. The replay indicated this decision was certainly better than the one made in the first half following the late challenge on Lallana.
Four minutes of stoppage time were added, and the Reds came close to that elusive goal twice more.
First it was Coutinho, holding off two challenges and firing a stinging drive from 25 yards, which Jakupovic did well to tip over.
The Brazilian was involved again with seconds remaining, exchanging a superb one-two with Jordan Henderson, and curling a stunning ball with the outside of his boot across the six yards box. Yet somehow, Mario Balotelli of all people contrived to miss the ball completely, and Hull were able to scrape the ball clear seconds before the final whistle sounded around Anfield.
It was a moment that typified the week the Italian has had, and despite a vastly improved defensive performance, Brendan Rodgers side left the field with the feeling of having dropped two points.