LIVERPOOL, April 11- Liverpool's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League suffered another substantial blow as Fulham earned a 0-0 draw at Anfield on Sunday.
Rafael Benitez’s side knew a victory over the Cottagers was vital if they were to keep alive their already fading dreams of overhauling Manchester City and Tottenham in the race for fourth place in the Premier League.
However, in a strangely subdued encounter between two sides who could meet in the Europa League final next month should they win their respective semi-finals, Liverpool could not break down the resilient London side, who had Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to thank for a string of fine saves.
The pre-match discussion at Anfield was mainly concerned with the news that Barclays Capital, the investment arm of the bank, are being drafted in by Liverpool to help the club find new owners.
It is the first move in what is likely to be a protracted affair but it is the strongest indicator yet that the club’s unpopular American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are finally getting ready to sell the club.
On the field, Liverpool also had to contest this encounter without Fernando Torres who picked up a knee injury during his sublime display against Benfica in Liverpool’s 4-1 Europa League victory on Thursday.
The Spanish forward had scored nine goals in his last seven appearances for Liverpool and 18 in just 22 Premier League encounters this season and his absence certainly affected the Reds’ attacking threat.
David Ngog replaced Torres as the lone striker but he lacked his team-mate’s cutting edge, shooting wide twice early on well placed.
In terms of possession, Liverpool were by far the better side but in the opening 20 minutes they did little with it.
Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard linked up well several times on the right wing but the final killer ball was absent as Liverpool failed to shine.
After 22 minutes, Alberto Aquilani has one ambitious overhead kick comfortably stopped by Schwarzer just 60 seconds before the Australian was called into action again as he brilliantly blocked a Maxi Rodriguez effort to keep the scores level.
Schwarzer was impressive again after half an hour as he clawed away a Javier Mascherano effort from outside the box that would have sneaked into the top corner.
Fulham were then given a let-off by referee Andre Marriner who allowed Jonathan Greening to remain on the pitch when he should have been dismissed.
He was booked early in the game for dissent and then chopped Johnson to the ground as the Liverpool defender tried to get forward in attack.
Although the Kop end called for Greening’s dismissal, Marriner decided against sending him off.
After the break, Schwarzer was again on fine form as he tipped over a curling Aquilani effort.
Schwarzer provided further inspiration after 63 minutes, getting down low to a fine Ryan Babel effort to tip it around the post as the home side continued to pour forward.
Fulham’s belief grew as the game progressed and they remained disciplined in defence, throwing themselves into the path of the ball whenever it was required.
They barely ventured into Liverpool’s half as it became increasingly clear that they were only interested in obtaining a point, something they managed as they blocked a late flurry of attempts.