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Liverpool held by lowly Stoke

LIVERPOOL stumbled in a 0-0 draw with Stoke on Saturday, a day after manager Rafa Benitez angrily dismissed Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson's claim that the Reds' English Premier League title bid will falter due to nerves.

Captain Steven Gerrard hit the crossbar and the post in the last six minutes as lowly Stoke held the 18-time champions for a second time this season, raising further doubts about the league leader's ability to hold on for a first English title since 1990.

United and Chelsea will be looking to take advantage of Liverpool's slip-up as they were scheduled to play late last night.

Aston Villa moved into third with a 2-1 win over local rival West Bromwich Albion.

A late goal enabled fifth-place Arsenal to stay in sight of the Champions League places with a 1-0 victory over Bolton, and Sunderland earned a 1-1 draw at local rival Middlesbrough.

Everton swept aside Hull 2-0 and Newcastle drew 2-2 with West Ham.

Frozen pitches forced the postponement of two topflight matches ?? Portsmouth versus Manchester City and Fulham versus Blackburn.

Benitez's astonishing attack on Ferguson came after the Scot said Liverpool would "make mistakes... and get punished" in the second half of the season.

Stoke, which climbed out of the relegation zone with the draw, could have been ahead in the 12th when Rory Delap hit the crossbar from six meters and Richard Cresswell was unable to react to the rebound.

Benitez attacked Ferguson's conduct toward referees and the league, and the Spaniard insisted the outburst hadn't proved a distraction as Liverpool still went four points ahead of Chelsea.

"When you are top you want to win, it doesn't matter which game it is," Benitez said. "After 22 years with Ferguson in charge it could have been any moment so why not the other day?

"I think it was the right moment to say, 'That's it, now we will talk about everything.' I was thinking about defending my team."

Villa midfielder Steve Sidwell had two headers cleared off the line before the ball eventually fell to Gareth Barry, who whipped in a cross for Curtis Davies to head in his first goal of the season.

An error by West Brom goalkeeper Scott Carson produced the winner. Barry released Gabriel Agbonlahor down the left and the forward cut into the penalty area. He struck the ball across the goal, but it was going wide until Carson deflected it under his left arm and over the line.


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