No Fernando Torres - no knockout

THE name Ramon Cugat will never figure on a Liverpool team sheet but their hopes of ending 19 years in the title wilderness could rest on his skills.

Cugat is the Spanish doctor currently endeavouring to bring Fernando Torres back to full fitness and unless he works his magic double quick, Rafa Benitez and his side could be staring down the barrel of another lost opportunity.

This time last season, Torres already had a dozen goals and Liverpool finally had a striker they could rely on to deliver the goods week in, week out.

Without him, they are like a boxer without a knockout blow, a distance runner without a sprint finish, a tennis player without an ace.

Torres is Liverpool’s cutting edge, their end product and their get out of jail free card all rolled into one. It may be possible to cope without him occasionally but any longer than that and the cracks inevitably begin to show.

Steven Gerrard did his best to fill the void in the enthralling but ultimately disappointing draw with Hull, but as talismanic as Liverpool’s captain is he still needs help from those around him but on Saturday it never arrived.

The Reds were not helped by a defence which seemed hell bent on handing out more presents than a rotund bearded bloke at a city centre grotto. But after gifting the visitors two goals they managed to get themselves back into the game and should have gone on to win it.

Gerrard did his bit, scoring two close range efforts which dragged his team kicking and screaming back into the contest, putting Hull on the ropes and leaving the Anfield crowd waiting for Phil Brown’s plucky upstarts to be brought down to their knees.

But it never happened, much to the frustration of the home fans who have now seen their team drop eight vital points in games against Stoke, Fulham, West Ham and now Hull at home.

That’s two points more than Liverpool took from their monumental victories over Manchester United and Chelsea.

If you want to see a team fail to take the most of the advantage it has given itself then Anfield is the place to be.

Thankfully, none of the other challengers seem to be willing to take this division by the scruff of the neck and slip ups are not being punished quite as severely as one would expect in the usually cut throat business that is a Premier League title race.

Despite their troubles at home, Liverpool remain there or thereabouts and at the start of the season everyone who dreams of seeing that long awaited number 19 finally landed would undoubtedly have settled for that.

The flip side is by dropping points against teams they would expect to beat, Liverpool are making it increasingly difficult for their challenge to be sustained and are certainly wasting opportunities to build up the kind of lead at the top which would send fear spreading amongst their rivals.

Ever since Rafa Benitez arrived at Anfield, Liverpool have never done things the easy way. A European Cup was won only after the odds had turned almost totally against them and an FA Cup was secured in almost identical fashion.

This season, they have launched more comebacks than an ageing boy band and only seem to really get going once they have fallen behind.

Saturday was a case in point as Hull made the most of Andrea Dossena’s ongoing defensive weakness and Jamie Carragher’s latest unfortunate own goal to take a two goal lead.

The Premier League new boys thoroughly deserved their lead for their spirit of adventure on a day when Liverpool could not claim to have dropped points because their opponents had turned up intent on doing nothing but stifle them.

If Hull’s approach was a breath of fresh air their manager’s post match bleating wreaked of halitosis as Phil Brown picked up on the infringements that led to Steven Gerrard’s goals but failed to point out the non free kick that led to his own side’s second or the blatant pull on Dirk Kuyt in the box that did not result in a penalty in front of the Kop.

Having found themselves facing the kind of deficit that embarrassments are made of Liverpool were stirred into action and soon enough found themselves back on level terms thanks to their captain’s latest heroics.

There was still an hour to be played when Gerrard scored his second but even that wasn’t long enough for Liverpool to bring a wait of more than a month for a home league win to an end.

Sami Hyypia came closest to securing victory when he hit the foot of the post with a header but despite mounting pressure and increased frenetic activity in and around the visitors box the Anfield outfit were again unable to turn home advantage into three points.

What Robbie Keane made of it all is anyone’s guess. Well, it is to anyone who doesn’t have a basic understanding of body language.

The pronounced shake of the £20m striker’s head when Benitez made his final substitution of the match and it wasn’t the Irishman told its own story.

If Keane can’t get on when Torres is absent, Kuyt is toiling to no great effect and Liverpool are crying out for a goal then the question has to be asked when will he?

Lucas, El Zhar and Babel have all made a difference after coming off the bench for the Reds but with a combined total of five career league goals between them – all of them scored by Babel – surely the situation was crying out for a man who has 131 to his name, even if he is well short of top form.

With Keane so badly out of favour the need for the return of the one striker who has Benitez’s total confidence is more urgent than ever.

If Dr Cugat can get Torres back fit and firing he could go down in medical history as the first doctor to inspire a title challenge as one thing is increasingly apparent – Liverpool are unlikely to do it without their Spanish striker.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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