Champions League chasers Liverpool and Tottenham shared the spoils at Anfield, playing out a gritty Monday night encounter at Anfield.
Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp was forced to watch the game on television, after his post-court flight to Liverpool was cancelled, while Luis Suarez returned to the Liverpool squad, albeit on the bench. Also appearing in the dugout was Spurs’ deadline-day purchase Louis Saha.
With both Liverpool and Spurs still brimming with confidence following wins against Wolves and Wigan respectively, it was perhaps a surprise that the Anfield crowd was treated to a relatively lacklustre opening 45 minutes.
The first half’s major talking point came courtesy of a Michael Dawson challenge on Andy Carroll, who had been played through the Tottenham defence by the lively Steven Gerrard. Referee Michael Oliver wasn’t interested in the Kop’s appeals for a penalty, a decision vindicated by subsequent replay evidence.
Truth be told, the tie was doing little to cement either side’s European football credentials, with only minor glimmers of scything counterattacking football from both teams offering any excitement. The threat of Gareth Bale was constantly neutralised by a tidy Liverpool back four, while Kyle Walker found no luck up against his England rival Glen Johnson, who was filling in at left-back under the watchful eyes of England manager Fabio Capello.
The second half proved an equally dour affair. Proceedings threatened to boil over when Bale clashed with Daniel Agger 10 minutes after the interval, but the match soon returned to a simmer.
Reds right-back Martin Kelly saw a long-range effort saved by the evergreen Brad Friedel on the hour mark to reinvigorate the encounter, with the buzz heightened by the introduction of the returning Suarez, making his first appearance since Boxing Day.
Suarez immediately forced a corner at the expense of Scott Parker, with Charlie Adam’s corner nodded into the arms of Friedel by the increasingly impressive Carroll.
As the Kop sang Suarez’s name, the Uruguayan continued to trouble the Spurs defence. Tottenham deputies Kevin Bond and Joe Jordan sprang into action, replacing the anonymous Emmanuel Adebayor with debutant Saha.
Liverpool’s best chance of the game came on 74 minutes. Kelly whipped a ball in that evaded Suarez, only for the ball to fall to Carroll, who blazed over from 10 yards out. Liverpool were looking by far the side more likely to score.
The Reds were soon caught napping. Bale burst forward, beating the offside trap to find himself one-on-one with Pepe Reina, only to drill the ball directly at the charging Spanish keeper.
The game had found its momentum, and after Saha was penalised for a foul on Adam, Suarez met Gerrard’s cross with a free header that fell gratefully into the arms of Friedel.
A Kop appeal for handball aside, little else of note occurred as the match reached its conclusion. On reflection, Tottenham will perhaps be pleased to come away from this difficult match with a point, while Liverpool will surely be disappointed to have not secured maximum points.