When match reports say Liverpool were lucky to escape with a draw, you know it’s been a bad day. When the opposition is Holland’s Utrecht and it’s the Europa League, it makes the day even worse.
Today was one of those days as the Reds played out – and narrowly avoided defeat – in a tiresome goalless draw at the Stadion Galgenwaard.
On the teamsheet, in came Martin Kelly for the injured Paul Konchesky at left-back – with Daniel Agger also out.
With Steven Gerrard rested, Lucas and Christian Poulsen marshalled the Reds midfield, whilst Raul Meireles – a centre midfielder – was stuck out on the right by Roy Hodgson.
Joe Cole was on the left with Dirk Kuyt, returning to the club he began his career with, supported Fernando Torres in attack.
I’d love to be able to report a freeflowing game full of bad refereeing decisions and good flowing positive play by Liverpool, but it wasn’t.
The odd twist and turn from Torres livened the move, but nothing would ever come from the resulting corner.
At the back, Liverpool looked shakey from corners and were lucky to avoid a Utrecht missed chance in the second half when a long ball found a gaping hole in the Reds defence. Nothing came of it, except Carragher’s face turned Red.
Liverpool lacked creativity, a familiar story under Roy Hodgson.
But at least it wasn’t defeat and on that performance the manager will be happy to take a draw and a point in their Europa League group stages campaign.
Liverpool now head back to Merseyside for Sunday’s (surely) must-win Premier League game at home to Blackpool. Anything less than three points in disaster, not to mention humiliation.
FC Utrecht: Vorm, Cornelisse, Nesu, Schut, Silberbauer, Mertens, Lensky (Nijholt 82), Wuytens, Duplan (Maguire 69), van Wolfswinkel, Mulenga,
Substitutes: Sinouh, Keller, Vorstermams, Van Der Maarel, Maguire, Nijholt, Demouge.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Kelly, Skrtel, Raul Meireles, Cole (Maxi 81), Lucas, C Poulsen, Torres, Kuyt.
Subsitutes: Jones, Kyrgiakos, Maxi, Spearing, Jovanovic, Babel, Ngog.
Match Report from BBC Sport
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 again went close as Liverpool’s sloppiness gave the home side 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.