Guileless Liverpool fail to follow through on some prescient Scouse philosophy

There is no shortage of banners on The Kop imparting Scouse philosophy, even when Stoke City come to town, but none could have quite summed up the mood among the Liverpool camp quite as succinctly as the headline on Rafael Benítez's programme notes for this game: "There's no point beating [Manchester] United if we don't follow it up with another win."

Stating the obvious, perhaps, but after 90 minutes of huffing and puffing, Benítez's players could not blow Stoke's defence down and, just seven days after defeating the European champions at Anfield to trigger genuine hopes of a first league championship since 1990, Liverpool did what they always seem to do when they threaten to make a real go of the title race - they slipped up.

Eric Gerets, the Marseille coach, likened Liverpool's players to Duracell bunnies ahead of their Champions League meeting last week. Judging by this display against Stoke, it was a fair observation considering that Liverpool continued to do the same thing over and over without ever really threatening to go anywhere.

Had Steven Gerrard's second-minute free-kick - which would have been his 100th goal for the club - been allowed to stand, then Liverpool would most likely have emerged as handsome winners.

But the referee, Andre Marriner, spotted an offside that nobody else inside Anfield had witnessed and disallowed the goal. The decision lifted Stoke and left Liverpool with 88 minutes in which to "score" again, but an inability to do anything other than play square passes and whip crosses into a penalty area dominated by Stoke's towering defenders resulted in a failure to beat the goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

Benítez said: "I don't want to use the [disallowed] goal as an excuse. We know it could be a massive difference, but after 88 minutes of attacking we know we have to score. We know we have to win these games and we need to get all three points. Maybe we need to have more quality around the box, but hopefully, it will be different in the next game like this."

Stoke should not have posed Liverpool the problems they did. No team has approached the top flight with such a basic style of play since Wimbledon in the 80s and 90s, but then Liverpool never could quite get to grips with the Crazy Gang. Had it been United or Arsenal up against Tony Pulis's players, the suspicion is that their flair and imagination would have cut Stoke to ribbons. Stoke are resolute and fantastically organised, but everything is done on a straight-line basis. Faced with the trickery of Cristiano Ronaldo or the guile of Cesc Fábregas, their game plan would struggle to survive.

But Liverpool have neither a Ronaldo nor a Fábregas. They have Robbie Keane and Fernando Torres and, as things stand, it is an uncomfortable pairing. Keane is yet to score for Liverpool and Torres, despite going close twice in the second half, has scored just once this season.

Torres is too good for his problems to go on too long, but Keane looks lost in a Liverpool shirt. Had Benítez instead splurged £20m on Andrei Arshavin, Anfield would have the magic once personified by the names of Dalglish, Beardsley and Barnes.

Liverpool were as predictable as Stoke, though, whose forward Dave Kitson said they were rarely troubled. "It's not a point we would have budgeted for at the start of the season, but you can look through the history books, particularly recent history, and see that the big teams are not impenetrable," he said. "You can argue that Liverpool had all of the play and they did, but they have to score and they didn't. That's credit to the way we defended."

Stoke face Chelsea this weekend and, buoyed by this result, Kitson insists that another surprise result is possible. "Why not? We've got Rory Delap's long throw, so you never know. People said we couldn't get anything at Liverpool, but we did."

Man of the match Thomas Sorensen (Stoke City)

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Corners 20 86% 3 14%
Goal attempts 27 90% 3 10%
On target 11 84% 2 16%
Fouls 8 44% 10 56%
Offside 1 25% 3 75%

Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Andrea Dossena, Martin Skrtel, Jamie Carragher, Albert Riera (Ryan Babel, 65), Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt, Robbie Keane (Yossi Benayoun, 73), Fernando Torres

Stoke City Thomas Sorensen, Andy Griffin, Abdoulaye Diagne-Faye, Danny Higginbotham, Ibrahima Sonko (Leon Cort, 22), Seyi Olofinjana, Salif Diao, Liam Lawrence (Richard Cresswell, 66), Rory Delap, Dave Kitson (Ricardo Fuller, 78), Mamady Sidibe

Referee Marriner, A
Venue Anfield
Attendance 43,931

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