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League leader Liverpool held by Stoke

sports Updated: Jan 11, 2009 01:32 IST

Liverpool dropped two valuable points but still extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to four after being held to their second 0-0 draw of the season by Stoke on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium.

Reds captain Steven Gerrard struck the bar after 84 minutes with a free-kick but it was a rare moment of concern for Stoke, who ended a streak of four straight league and cup defeats. Liverpool now has 46 points from 21 matches while second-placed Chelsea have 42 from 20. Chelsea meets fellow title-chaser Manchester United on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Stoke moved out of the bottom three with the hard-earned point.

The home side should have taken the lead in the 12th minute when a looping cross from Amdy Faye fell to Rory Delap, who began the attack with one of his fizzing long throws.

Delap, though, shot recklessly against the bar from just six meters (yards) and striker Richard Cresswell was unable to react when the rebound came his way.

Liverpool struggled to break down Stoke for much of the game but on 22 minutes Dirk Kuyt found space to shoot from seven meters (yards) though keeper Thomas Sorensen saved at the near post. It was their only clear chance of the match.

Stoke had the ball in the Liverpool net on 31 minutes when new signing Matthew Etherington's cross was headed in by defender Ryan Shawcross but it was ruled off-side.

Stoke's spirited and direct style _ traits that helped the newly promoted team beat Aston Villa and Arsenal at home this season often tested the Reds' defence.

Liverpool opted to start with attackers Fernando Torres, Robbie Keane and Ryan Babbel - bought for a collective $88 million (euro64 million) on the substitutes bench.

Gerrard, their most influential player, failed to have much impact while employed just behind lone striker Kuyt and his dominant midfield play was missed while in a more attacking role. Stoke again threatened on 51 minutes courtesy of a mistake from goalkeeper Pepe Reina, whose clearance was mis-hit low to Dave Kitson. The striker took the ball on and rounded Reina but could not score from an acute angle.

Liverpool introduced Spain international Torres in the 59th minute for fellow Spaniard Albert Reira. It was the first Premier League appearance for Torres since November, following his injury layoff.

Still it was the home team that looked more likely to score and another Delap long throw after 75 minutes was headed just inches over Reina's goal.