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16 Dec 2010

A shadow Liverpool side went through the motions of a final Europa League group game as they played out a dull draw against FC Utrecht.

With the Reds through to the last 32 and the Dutch side unable to qualify, both sides lacked urgency and desire.

Milan Jovanovic came closest to breaking the deadlock when his rasping 30-yard strike rattled the crossbar.

Joe Cole also had a late chance for the home side only to have a close range strike blocked.

Cole also failed to get a touch to a Fabio Aurelio cross in the closing minutes as he tried to divert a shot goalwards at the near post before the end of a display that will do little to encourage Liverpool fans.

Reds manager Roy Hodgson revealed he had been persuaded to see sense by the club's medical staff and not start star striker Fernando Torres, while the stronger looking line-up that he hinted he might field also failed to materialise.

How seriously the Anfield boss considered such a move is debatable considering the meaningless nature of the game weighed against the potential risks of such a ploy.

Instead, the second string team Hodgson has regularly sent out in the competition was again called upon and, despite the notions of being able to press their claims for first-team action, the Reds players failed to stir themselves in a game they could have approached with a relative degree of freedom.

The only worthwhile chance to mention in the first half was a surging run from Jovanovic which ended with the Serbian having a well-struck long range strike touched on to the crossbar by keeper Michel Vorm.

In a disjointed game devoid of ideas, Reds playmaker Cole failed to make his presence felt in his search for form and fitness following his recent return from a hamstring injury.

Nathan Eccleston, 19, was making his first start for Liverpool but, despite his energy, the promising striker had little chance of making an impact because of the lack of creativity the home side were displaying against a visiting side showing equally little ambition.

Utrecht's players had been told to enjoy playing at Anfield in their Europa League swansong but they were dealt a blow when their top scorer Ricky van Wolfswinkel fell awkwardly and was stretchered off with a broken collarbone.

The injury is likely to have ended any hopes the striker, who has 19 goals so far this season and was linked with several top-flight clubs in the summer, may have had of moving to the Premier League during the January transfer window.

Ryan Babel flashed a shot wide across goal in some rare action before one of the loudest cheers of the night came when former Utrecht player Dirk Kuyt came on as a substitute.

Cole's late chance at the far post gave brief hope of a goal but that disappeared when his shot was blocked before the final whistle quickly moved thoughts on to the draw for the next stage on Friday.


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