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Hodgson makes a point
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson's gamble in leaving at home a handful of his senior players - including Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard - paid off in some respect as his side claimed a well-earned Europa League draw against Napoli in the Stadio San Paolo.

Many tipped the hopelessly out-of-form Reds for defeat after bringing a weakened side to Naples, but they withstood long spells of pressure to leave with a point.

The closest they came to conceding was in first-half added time when Paul Konchesky cleared Marek Hamsik's shot off the line in the nick of time, while Ryan Babel could have snatched victory with 20 minutes to go but shot too close to goalkeeper Morgan de Sanctis.

Hodgson had admitted in his pre-match press conference that the Premier League had to take priority because of their woeful start to the season, with just one win in eight games leaving them 19th in the table, and that was why he had rested Torres, Gerrard, Raul Meireles and Lucas Leiva.

He said if they lost in Naples he would expect to receive criticism. He avoided the former but it is unlikely the latter will dissipate any time soon as even a win over Blackburn on Sunday will probably not end the growing murmurings of discontent within Anfield.

At least this performance, unlike the Merseyside derby defeat last weekend, showed some grit and determination and keeps Liverpool on course for progress to the knockout phase as they have taken five points from their three group matches so far, and still have home games against Utrecht and Napoli.

It is a competition which has so far been much kinder to Hodgson but, unfortunately for him, if he cannot turn around the team's domestic form, no number of good performances in Europe are going to ease the pressure on him.

Getting to the latter stages of the Europa League but still being stuck in the lower reaches of the Premier League is unlikely to carry much weight with new owners New England Sports Ventures, who expect to see more from their £300 million investment.

After the previous night's attacks on fans and some limited patches of trouble prior to kick-off, the atmosphere inside the stadium was equally as daunting for the players as the streets of Naples had been for supporters.

However, the visitors did a good job of negating all that early fervour with a disciplined, solid start and the whistles which greeted any spell of Liverpool possession were deafening.

Ezequiel Lavezzi's corner saw Cristian Maggio divert the ball goalwards only for Edinson Cavani to head it away as he tried to get a decisive touch.

Napoli were starting to take control but Lavezzi's long-range strike flew well over Jose Reina's crossbar.

In the 33rd minute Jonjo Shelvey combined with Jay Spearing but the shot with his weaker left foot was straight at goalkeeper De Sanctis.

He was obviously not short of confidence as he tried to lob De Sanctis from the halfway line but hardly extended the goalkeeper let alone tested him.

But they had a lucky escape in first-half stoppage time with a controversial incident which will again bring up the issue of goal-line technology.

Maggio's corner fell to Cavani who beat Jamie Carragher and fired in a low cross which Hamsik diverted goalwards and it was unclear whether the ball had crossed the line before Konchesky cleared.

Carragher was replaced for the second half by Sotirios Kyrgiakos as Napoli seized the initiative again.

Cavani wasted a good chance before Michele Pazienza was booked for a wild lunge which caught Spearing in the face as he stooped to head the ball and, after initial concerns about the midfielder, he was able to continue after treatment.

Napoli continued to press but Babel should have snatched the lead with the best chance of the night when he was played through by Jovanovic in acres of space on the left of the penalty area.

The Holland international opted to shoot right-footed across De Sanctis but placed his effort too close to the goalkeeper, who saved with his feet.

Ngog also went close when he turned in the area only for his shot to be charged down by Salvatore Aronica.

# Hodgson feels for Reds fans

After the match, manager Roy Hodgson has leapt to the defence of Liverpool supporters after they were targeted by Napoli's hard-core 'Ultra' fans. Six English fans - four of whom suffered knife wounds - and one Italian were hurt in a spree of co-ordinated attacks using a variety of weapons.

However, Hodgson hit back at Italian journalists who asked him what he felt about "drunken Liverpool fans coming to Naples and causing trouble".

"I was aware and I was concerned [about the attacks]," he said. "These supporters have done a fantastic job; it was always going to be tough asking them to come to Naples as they know they are coming to a potentially dangerous situation.

"All I can say how grateful we are for their support and how sympathetic and sad we were to hear they had been attacked and some of them seriously.

"These are the things you don't want to see in football. We've had our share in England but you see it much less these days.

"We don't want violence on the pitch or off the pitch and we certainly don't want situations where supporters don't want to go and support their team because they are frightened of getting injured.

"In the press conference yesterday a question was asked of me in Italian - and I answered in Italian - as to whether I was concerned drunken Liverpool supporters would cause trouble on the streets of Naples.

"I find that now faintly amusing that I should be defending Liverpool supporters from Italian journalists when in fact they are peaceful people who come here to watch the game and some of them end up being stabbed."

On the pitch a solid display saw his side keep only their second clean sheet in the last seven matches - the other came in Utrecht on their last European outing - and although they have not won in that time there were plenty of positives.

"It was a good point which many people didn't think we would get, considering the team selection, but we've proved them wrong," added Hodgson. "We are delighted with a point which keeps us top of the table."

Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri was slightly disappointed with a third successive draw but praised Liverpool's performance.

"Liverpool are a top team and they were an amazing team tonight," he said. "We could have had the advantage of scoring a goal at the end of the first half but I think we played very well and the only thing we didn't do was score.

"We tried to the end and I think we showed the right mentality, thinking about winning the game."
 
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