LONDON (Reuters) - Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers praised Mario Balotelli for “working hard and doing his best” as the misfiring Italian striker had to suffer another fruitless afternoon in front of goal at Anfield on Saturday.
After Balotelli had again failed to break his Premier League goalscoring duck for Liverpool in the 0-0 draw with Hull City, Rodgers, who had been unimpressed by the striker’s midweek halftime shirt swap during the Champions League defeat by Real Madrid, offered a more sympathetic verdict.
Reflecting on an improved effort by Balotelli, Rodgers said: “I thought he worked very well, very hard. He maybe thought he wasn’t going to play today but you have got to stay with it. He is working hard and he is doing his best.
“Unfortunately it is that wee bit of confidence sometimes, when you don’t get the goal. He kept going, kept getting into the areas.
“Sometimes with players if it’s not going so well they have a day where they don’t train or don’t work, but he puts himself out to train every single day. He is out there wanting to be better, wanting to improve.
“Goalscorers will tell you they get their energy from the ball hitting the back of the net and it is just not happening for him in terms of that, but all I will ask is they do their best.
“You saw today’s reaction. It was unlucky he didn’t get the goal.”
Balotelli was denied in the first half by a fine save from Eldin Jakupovic and failed to convert an excellent chance in the dying seconds.
“He will be disappointed he hasn’t scored but, for the team, it was a big effort on the back of playing against a good team in midweek.”
The pressure mounts on Balotelli, who has now scored just once in 11 matches for Liverpool, with none in 514 minutes of Premier League football.
Yet Hull manager Steve Bruce also had words of support for Balotelli, insisting that criticism of the enigmatic striker had been harsh.
“I thought he was their best player,” said Bruce. “There is a lot written about him and a lot of debate about him and he is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he is a bit of a character, a bit of a maverick. When you sign a maverick you have to treat him like one and get the best out of him somehow.
“He is going through one of those sticky periods but the kid is a talent.”
He was also impressed that, after the furore surrounding the shirt swap with Pepe which had incurred Liverpool fans’ wrath, Balotelli still accepted a request to swap shirts with one of Hull’s players after the game.
“He was good-spirited enough to swap shirts. So, one of them (Hull players) have got it, but he did it out of the road of the cameras this time,” said Bruce.
Writing by Ian Chadband; Editing by Toby Davis