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01 Oct 2010

Liverpool lived a charmed life as they earned a hard-fought draw at Utrecht in a Europa League Group K tie.

Keeper Pepe Reina kept out an angled shot from Dries Mertens before Raul Meireles headed a Michael Silberbauer effort off the Liverpool goal-line.

Fernando Torres almost punished Utrecht only to have a close-range shot saved.

Jacob Mulenga steered an effort just wide for Utrecht and Mertens was denied a late penalty shout after a Jamie Carragher challenge.

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson may take solace in a clean sheet for his side and the fact they remain top of their group but their slow rate of progress will be a concern.

Hodgson's urgency for his stuttering Reds to start improving had meant he abandoned his policy of picking a weakened side for Europa League games.

Torres had started in a bid to rediscover his goalscoring form, while Utrecht's home record of six wins in as many games so far this season was also part of the reasoning behind Hodgson's decision most of his first-team stars.

But, despite the visitors showing early glimpses of developing the understanding and fluency they are seeking, promising early moves would too often break down.

Meireles was employed on the right of midfield as opposed to his more preferred central position and it was apparent he looked uncertain.

Although, when the Portugal international did drift into the middle, he had a long-range shot comfortably saved before guiding a free header from a Glen Johnson cross straight at keeper Michel Vorm.

The Reds were feeding on scraps in attack, with Joe Cole unable to have any influence on the game, and Utrecht set about exposing a Liverpool defence which has conceded seven goals in the last three games.

Carragher crucially beat Utrecht striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel to a Mulenga cross and another threatening delivery from the right was spilled by Reina before Martin Skrtel cleared.

Torres curled a shot just wide from 22 yards at the other end but Utrecht's Jan Wuytens had a goal disallowed for a foul in the build-up play before the home side again went close as Liverpool's sloppiness gave them added encouragement.

Reds striker Dirk Kuyt, who started his career at the Dutch side, dallied in clearing a ball and was robbed of possession by Mertens, who had an angled drive blocked by Reina.

An unmarked Tim Cornelisse put a near-post header from the resultant corner wide before the visitors almost buckled.

Utrecht skipper Silberbauer thought he had scored when he side-footed a corner at the Reds goal only for Meireles to head clear off the goal-line.

Liverpool almost made the most of their desperate defending as a long goal-kick from Reina found Kuyt and he crossed for Torres, who failed to convert the type of near-post chance he would have put away in his pomp.

The visitors survived a late chance when Mulenga put a shot narrowly wide after Martin Kelly failed to intercept a Van Wolfswinkel flick-on as Utrecht maintained their pressure.

But, after a penalty scare for the Reds when Mertens fell to ground as he and Carragher challenged for a cross, it all ended even at the Stadion Galgenwaard.


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