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Brendan Rodgers endured a frustrating return to the Madejski Stadium as a remarkable performance from Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy held Liverpool to a goalless draw.
Time and again McCarthy came to Reading's rescue by producing a succession of world-class saves to deny Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. The academy product, who recently recovered from shoulder surgery, only started the match after Adam Federici was ruled out with an ankle problem.
Liverpool dominated most of the Barclays Premier League match and could have finished clear winners but for McCarthy's brilliance. Chance after chance went begging before the interval and, apart from a bright spell from Reading midway through the second half when Noel Hunt and Jobi McAnuff could have scored, they were in full control.
During the final 10 minutes Liverpool laid siege to the home goal and while Sturridge was guilty of missing a match-winning opportunity, Suarez could only stare in disbelief as he was foiled by the terrific McCarthy twice in quick succession.
The draw halted Reading's run of seven successive Barclays Premier League defeats and it may not prevent them from being relegated, but the spirit on display will have been appreciated by manager Nigel Adkins.
A minute's silence was immaculately observed before the match in memory of the 96 victims of Hillsborough, with its 24th anniversary falling on Monday. Liverpool made one change to the side that drew with West Ham United, with Stewart Downing replaced by Sturridge, and they were immediately into their stride as they passed their way through the hosts.
They would have taken the lead but for a brilliant clearance from right-back Chris Gunter, who scooped Suarez's lofted shot off the goalline as the home defence was split open. Early on, McCarthy made a fine double save off Sturridge and Coutinho, while Jamie Carragher sent a corner whistling over the crossbar.
Shortly after rescuing his side with his goalline heroics, Gunter passed straight to Sturridge, who unleashed Suarez onto the Royals' goal, but McCarthy reacted brilliantly to stop the shot before Gerrard's follow-up was deflected over the target.
Carragher was forced to intervene in the nick of time as Reading attacked, but Liverpool countered shortly after and Coutinho spurned a great chance. The reflexes of McCarthy kept the Reds at bay and he produced another magnificent save to deny Sturridge from close range.
Liverpool finally had the ball in the net three minutes into the second half, but the flag went up for offside against Coutinho as he dabbed Gerrard's pass home. Frustration began to creep into Liverpool's play, born out of their inability to deliver the opener their ascendancy deserved.
Instead, Reading began to play a bigger role in the match and could have taken the lead in the 67th minute when Pavel Pogrebnyak played in Hunt, only for Reina to throw his body in the way. Danny Guthrie then saw a shot blocked while at the other end Coutinho blasted a fine pass from Sturridge well wide of the right post.
The match was anyone's and in the 65th minute Reading would have taken the lead had McAnuff struck the ball with greater force from 10 yards out. Instead Reina was able to parry it clear.
Suarez and Downing then went close, and then it was Gerrard's turn to be denied by the fingertips of McCarthy.
The goalkeeper expertly plucked a shot from Suarez from the air and palmed another attempt from the Liverpool forward to safety, while Sturridge blazed high over the crossbar.
Reading manager Nigel Adkins: "It was a good performance all around. In the three games I have been in charge, the attitude and application has been top-drawer. It was an outstanding goalkeeping performance from Alex McCarthy. He has worked really hard to make sure we pick up a point today.
"The first 15 minutes they had good possession - they play football the right way. But our players have kept us in the game and we have had a great opportunity with Noel Hunt late on and Pepe Reina has made a great save. It is only one point, when we need three - we know where we are."
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "We created enough chances to win a couple of games. Their goalkeeper was outstanding and on another day the goals go in. It was as good a goalkeeping performance as I have seen in a long time.
"I can't ask anything more of the players except that we should have been a wee bit more clinical. Our creativity and movement was very good. But we just didn't do the final bit - that is to put the ball in the net - and that cost us."
|20 Apr 2013||v Norwich (A)|
|28 Apr 2013||v QPR (H)|
|04 May 2013||v Fulham (A)|
|14 May 2013||v Man City (H)|
|19 May 2013||v West Ham (A)|