Premier League leaders Liverpool could only grind out a 0-0 draw at struggling Stoke City on Saturday, missing the chance to open a six-point gap at the top. Manager Rafa Benitez launched a verbal volley at Manchester United counterpart Alex Ferguson on Friday but his team were tame by comparison and apart from two late Steven Gerrard efforts that hit the woodwork the visitors were second best. "We are not happy," Benitez told Setanta Sports television. "It was difficult and we could never control the game. When you can't control the game it's better not to lose." Liverpool have 46 points, eight more than fourth-placed United who could overhaul them by winning their three matches in hand, one of which is at home to Chelsea on Sunday. Chelsea, in second, can move within a point of the lead if they beat the champions at Old Trafford. Aston Villa went third, five points off the pace, after a 2-1 home victory over bottom club West Bromwich Albion that came courtesy of a dreadful error by their former goalkeeper Scott Carson. The England international fumbled a Gabriel Agbonlahor shot into his own goal just before halftime to double Villa's lead after Curtis Davies had headed the opener in the 18th minute. Arsenal kept in touch with the top four as Nicklas Bendtner's late goal secured a 1-0 home win over Bolton Wanderers. The Gunners are level with United on 38 points but have played three more games. EVERTON SIXTH Everton beat Hull City 2-0 to remain sixth while Newcastle United drew 2-2 at home to West Ham United and Middlesbrough and Sunderland shared a 1-1 draw. Two matches fell victim to the icy weather conditions, with Portsmouth's home game against Manchester City and Fulham vs Blackburn Rovers postponed because of frozen pitches. Benitez said after the match that Stoke had "more belief" and he will be alarmed by the lack of chances his side created. "Every time they had a free kick, corner or throw-in it was a problem," said the Spaniard, whose Liverpool team also drew 0-0 at home to Stoke earlier this season. Stoke, now out of the relegation zone, were the better side in the first half. Long-throw specialist Rory Delap smashed one shot against the crossbar while Ryan Shawcross had a goal ruled out. Benitez started with strikers Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane on the bench while Gerrard, playing a more advanced role, struggled to make an impact. Dave Kitson went close for Stoke in the second half when he headed a Delap throw-in over the bar and Glenn Whelan shaved the post with a fierce free kick. Liverpool came alive once Torres was introduced and Gerrard could have snatched victory. First he swerved a free kick on to the bar and then he found the outside of the post with an angled shot in the dying seconds.
10 January 2009
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