Football: West Brom dent Liverpool's Champions League challenge

WEST BROMWICH, United Kingdom (AFP) - Liverpool's remote chance of staying in the hunt for Champions League qualification suffered a setback after a 0-0 draw at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday dented their hopes of a top-four finish.

Stalemate at the Hawthorns left Liverpool six points adrift of Manchester City, who could be nine points clear were they to beat Aston Villa in Saturday's late kick-off.

Liverpool were looking to bounce back from the disappointment of their FA Cup semi-final defeat by Villa, but they squandered the chances to celebrate Steven Gerrard's 500th Premier League appearance with a much-needed victory.

Though Gerrard himself went close to marking the occasion with a trademark free-kick in the first half, Liverpool failed to beat a West Brom side that had lost their previous two home matches to sides deep in relegation trouble.

Liverpool's Jordon Ibe rattled the bar with one effort midway through the second half, while Albion goalkeeper Boaz Myhill denied Mario Balotelli and Philippe Coutinho with a double save.

Albion created the first threat from a Chris Brunt free-kick as Craig Dawson's astute header picked out Craig Gardner on the edge of the Liverpool box.

Gardner could not, however, reproduce his spectacular strike at Crystal Palace a week earlier, scuffing his attempt at goal, although Victor Anichebe tried in vain to get a touch to it.

Balotelli was instrumental in carving out an opportunity for himself by picking Claudio Yacob's pocket, but after collecting a return pass from Raheem Sterling, his shot was charged down by Gareth McAuley.

The visitors were looking the more menacing of the two sides and some neat inter-play between Sterling and Jordan Henderson led to a free kick on the edge of the box as the backtracking Saido Berahino was penalised for upending Balotelli.

It was a perfect opportunity for Gerrard to mark his landmark appearance in style, but although Myhill could do nothing about his curling effort, the Albion keeper was relieved to watch it flash inches wide of his right hand upright.

No doubt stirred up by half-time words from manager Tony Pulis, Albion began the second half with greater intensity and McAuley planted a header wide of the target when he rose to meet a free kick whipped into the box by Darren Fletcher.

It then took some excellent goalkeeping from Myhill and last-ditch defending from his colleagues to prevent Liverpool going ahead.

Myhill saved Balotelli's shot on the turn and the Welshman then reacted smartly to keep out a tame effort from Coutinho before Jordan Henderson was denied when he seemed destined to tuck away the follow-up.

The woodwork then came to Albion's aid when Ibe rounded off a burst forward with a rising shot which took a deflection off Joleon Lescott and clattered against the bar.

West Brom almost went in front as substitute Callum McManaman had an instant impact, sending over a cross which forced Martin Skrtel to slice his attempted clearance.

It dropped onto the head of James Morrison at the far post, but his goalbound attempt was cleared off the line by the backtracking Dejan Lovren.