MORE indignities have been heaped on Gerard Houllier this season than he would happily contemplate, but he has been spared at least one.

No Liverpool manager has ever lost at home to Fulham and yesterday that record of invincibility was preserved.

Do not expect to see Anfield's streets bedecked with bunting.

Rather than celebrating, Houllier will be trying to contrive blessings from another disappointing performance that further hampers Liverpool's chances of making the Champions League next season. They have taken only one point from their last nine.

More of this and the much anticipated clash at Anfield on 15 May will merely be an opportunity for Newcastle to bask in their achievement of gaining the much-coveted fourth place.

Yesterday Liverpool looked bereft of ideas and although they missed a penalty and hit the post, only the most redeyed of supporters could begrudge Fulham their point.

The visitors, who dropped Sean Davis and Zat Knight for breaking a curfew last week, also hit the bar and worked prodigiously to their pre-match plan of containment. It worked only too easily and the home players left the pitch to what is becoming a regular conclusion: the sound of jeers.

"I know the headlines will not be nice for us, " said Houllier, who attributed the players' trepidation to the reception after Monday's defeat by Charlton Athletic, "but we'll keep on battling." On the penalty, taken by Steven Gerrard in preference to the normal choice Michael Owen, he added: "If Michael had felt he could take the penalty he would have done so it was down to the players to find a solution. You can't blame Steven for missing, it was a good save." It was also Liverpool's best opportunity in a match which they seemed devoid of imagination. Their ideal opponents are those who leave themselves open to a counterattack but as soon as Fulham lined up it was clear they were not going to expose themselves. Nine players dug trenches as soon as they lost the ball and the home side were soon struggling in noman's land.

Vladimir Smicer shot weakly after 11 minutes, Owen was forced wide and had his cross cut out five minutes later and the England striker whistled a shot narrowly wide after 24, but as the first half wore on Liverpool looked increasingly like a team in need of an idea.

Gerrard probably feels he has learned not to take penalties again because he took the responsibility when Owen, who has missed three this season, declined.

Nevertheless Chris Coleman was delighted with the draw. "For us to be five points behind Liverpool with four games to go just shows how well we have done, " he said.

The way Houllier's team have under-achieved this season, it was almost damning with faint praise.