Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel feels sorry for Mario Balotelli as the striker’s struggles continue.
Balotelli has still not scored in the Premier League since joining the Reds in a £16million deal in August. His luckless run continued as Hull frustrated the Merseysiders to claim a goalless draw on Saturday.
Balotelli was far from the worst player on the pitch, producing a committed display which offered encouragement after some of his heavily criticised efforts of recent weeks.
But coming after the controversy of midweek, when he was seen swapping shirts at half-time of the 3-0 loss to Real Madrid, the spotlight was on him.
That meant his lack of goals was again highlighted and the spurned stoppage-time chance, when Eldin Jakupovic denied him at point-blank range, commanded a lot of headlines.
A bookmaker also ridiculed Balotelli’s lack of output, offering fans outside the ground the chance to trade in shirts bearing his names for different ones in a publicity stunt.
But Skrtel came to the Italian’s defence, saying: “He is working hard and showed some good moments. I feel sorry for him. He is working hard in training, he is working hard in the game. He just hasn’t got the goals.
“We just believe in him. We will be supporting him and just hope he will start scoring goals.”
Liverpool’s performance was patchy but they had some good spells, notably in the first and last 15 minutes, and Balotelli was at the fore. He brought a good early save from Hull’s third-choice goalkeeper Jakupovic, took up good positions, worked hard off the ball and had a penalty appeal turned down.
He almost settled the game in dramatic circumstances in the fourth minute of injury time when he got on the end of a Philippe Coutinho cross but Jakupovic blocked.
Coutinho had himself been denied by Jakupovic moments earlier and Raheem Sterling shot narrowly wide. Steven Gerrard and Dejan Lovren also had good chances for Brendan Rodgers’ men.
Hull’s best spell came in the latter stages of the first half when Jake Livermore, Mohamed Diame and Tom Huddlestone had chances.
It was another frustrating result for Liverpool, who have won just four of their nine games and Skrtel took little satisfaction from an improved defensive showing.
The Slovakia international said: “It is normal when you are conceding goals that the back four and the keeper will always be the first to be blamed.
“We fixed it, we got a clean sheet, but we couldn’t get the three points, so that’s not good enough. We played for the points. We could have won and it’s disappointing.
“I would have preferred to win 5-4 and get three points than draw 0-0 and get a point. I think we played well and just couldn’t score the goal.”
For Hull, who have had to deal with a clutch of injuries, the result was another encouraging one after last week’s point at Arsenal.
Midfielder Ahmed Elmohamady felt it was further proof of the club’s continuing development, with the squad’s greater depth now allowing the Tigers to compete with the top sides on a regular basis.
The Egypt international said: “Everyone in the squad is absolutely fantastic. We missed (Michael) Dawson, Jela (Nikica Jelavic), (Steve) Harper, Allan McGregor – but all the players came and did fantastic.
“Everyone is working hard to get their chance in the team and we worked very hard. We are looking forward to every game to get a result, home or away, even against the tough teams.
“That’s two games in a row against top-four teams and we are looking forward to the next game at home now, against another tough team in Southampton. We are looking forward to getting the three points.
“We should have scored in the first half here and we had two or three chances but we will take a point. The performance was absolutely fantastic.”