Liverpool 0 Hull City 0: Hull take centre stage with Balotelli silenced

WHY always him? Not this time, as, for once, the day was not all about Mario Balotelli.

Hull City's Robbie Brady thwarts Liverpool's Raheem Sterling. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

Instead, at the end of a week when the Italian with an unerring habit of courting controversy had been in the headlines again for all the wrong reasons, a marvellous rearguard action from Hull City and a point-securing performance from Eldin Jakupovic were the main talking points at 

Hull’s third-choice goalkeeper, only in the side due to Allan McGregor and Steve Harper being injured, may not have made a save that can be truly put in the bracket ‘world class’ against a Liverpool side that only really got going in the final quarter.

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But the 30-year-old, Steve Bruce’s first signing after taking charge of the East Riding club in the summer of 2012, did display a pair of safe hands and a sound temperament throughout to secure what was only the Tigers’ second draw in 10 visits to the home of Liverpool.

“I thought he was brilliant,” said Curtis Davies of Jakupovic, who spent most of last season on loan at Leyton Orient in League One. This was the one-time Swiss international’s second start in the Premier League.

“He only plays in the big games. He has played at Old Trafford, the Emirates (as a substitute) and now Anfield. He has certainly picked them. As always with a goalkeeper, it is a position you need to ease yourself into and he kept it simple.

“It was his first Premier League start (of the season) and, on the back of coming on as a sub against Arsenal, he did well.

“He made a couple of good saves and the main thing from the point of view of a defender is that he was vocal. What you need when you are a back four, or back five, is a ‘keeper that is talking all the time. It makes your job easier and he produced a quality performance for someone who hasn’t played that much.”

In truth, Jakupovic was one of several heroes for Hull on an afternoon when injury had left Bruce’s squad severely weakened.

With Andrew Robertson joining a list of absentees that already included Nikica Jelavic, Michael Dawson, McGregor, Harper and Robert Snodgrass, Hull were forced into several changes. All, to a man, stepped up in admirable fashion with Robbie Brady, in particular, delivering the sort of performance that will surely make it hard for Bruce to select Robertson next weekend against Southampton if, as expected, the left-back is fit again.

Brady shackled Raheem Sterling brilliantly, the fleet-footed England man being unable to show the explosive speed and skill that has made him such an exciting prospect.

Alex Bruce, starting his first league game since the opening day of the season, also deputised admirably for Dawson in the middle of a three-man back-line.

Handed the unenviable task of trying to keep Balotelli quiet, the former Leeds United defender delivered a polished display.

Balotelli may have had chances, most notably in the 13th minute when his effort was saved smartly by Jakupovic and then at the finish when he fluffed completely an opening created by Philippe Coutinho.

Bruce, though, stuck to his task throughout against a striker who, for all his off-field antics, remains a wonderful talent.

Alongside Bruce, Davies and James Chester also put in a tremendous shift to earn completely a precious point. Not that it came easy, with the final quarter, in particular, seeing Liverpool lay siege to the visitors’ goal.

The introduction of Lambert from the bench proved the catalyst, the Reds carrying much more of a threat with two men up front as opposed to Balotelli playing as a lone frontman.

Until that late pressure, Hull had just one genuine nervous moment when Ahmed Elmohamady had to clear a 10th-minute header from Dejan Lovren off the line.

Once Lambert was introduced to the action, however, Liverpool were transformed as Jakupovic had to save smartly from Sterling and then Coutinho.

Davies also blocked several goal-bound efforts, the best of which came 14 minutes from time to deny Lambert as the substitute closed in on goal, while Balotelli went down theatrically in an attempt to win a penalty off Bruce but referee Neil Swarbrick was having none of it.

Hull’s own chances were few and far between. Jake Livermore did have a good opening just before the break but scuffed his shot. Mohamed Diame also dragged a shot wide and Tom Huddlestone had an effort deflected behind for a corner in a pre-interval period that proved to be Hull’s best of the game.

It was, though, in defence where the Tigers excelled to claim a second creditable draw on the road in as many games after taking a point off Arsenal at the Emirates just a week earlier.

Davies said: “It feels pretty good to take points off both, even if we are actually a little bit disappointed. For the Arsenal game, they got the equaliser so late on. I guess before these games to take two points we would have snapped your hand off.

“Hopefully, it will give us some momentum going into our next few games.

“Above all, we are proud to get a clean sheet at Anfield.”

He added: “Against Liverpool, it was slightly different (than at Arsenal), the chances didn’t come as much as we liked. We had a couple of half-decent hits, but they were straight down (goalkeeper Simon) Mignolet’s throat.

“We didn’t get the chances we wanted, but when you can come here and keep a clean sheet then that is always a great starting point.”