LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Mario Balotelli misfired in front of goal again as Liverpool was held to a 0-0 draw by Hull in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Italy striker has made an underwhelming start to his Liverpool career and was criticized for exchanging shirts at halftime with Real Madrid defender Pepe in a 3-0 loss Wednesday in the Champions League.
But it wasn't only Balotelli who couldn't find a way through Hull. Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho also went close to scoring in stoppage time after Liverpool dominated the second half. Balotelli and Sterling both had penalty appeals turned down.
Liverpool, last season's runner-up, dropped to sixth place, eight points behind leader Chelsea, which has a game in hand.
"I thought it was a great response for us from the game in midweek," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "We were maybe a bit slow in the first half but in the second half we were outstanding — the energy and effort we put into the game, and we created chances."
Although Balotelli's body language has been questioned in recent weeks, he looked up for the challenge in this game from the first minute.
There was little of the lazy, languid demeanor or gestures of frustration he had shown in recent performances.
"I thought Mario worked very well and very hard," Rodgers said. "He maybe thought he wasn't going to play today. You saw that he is working hard and at the moment he's doing his best.
"Unfortunately, it's about confidence sometimes when you don't get the goal. He kept going and kept getting into the areas."
Balotelli was often up front on his own, but he did work hard to bring others into play when he could. One pass seemed perfect to tee up Dejan Lovren to score after a set piece, but the defender completely miskicked. A back-heeled pass early on from Balotelli also delighted the crowd, but he got few sights of goal.
Balotelli's one clear-cut chance in the first half brought a decent save out of goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic.
Hull's third-choice goalkeeper was Hull's savior at the end, tipping over Coutinho's long-range effort and blocking Balotelli from point-blank range in the closing stages.
"It was a big effort by the team physically," Rodgers said. "We just couldn't find the final touch."