Kenny Dalglish bemoaned Liverpool's inability to part a resolute Stoke City defence and then scurried for the exit only to find himself unable to open the door of the press room. Blocked on all fronts, there was also no escaping the unpalatable truth that Liverpool's latest frustration on the home front was entirely self-inflicted.

Stoke City became the seventh visiting team to leave Anfield with a point this season and no inspired goalkeeping or catalogue of missed chances excused Liverpool on this occasion. For the first time since his well-documented suspension began Luis Suárez was sorely missed, and his absence was savoured by a rival manager.

"I was absolutely delighted not to see him on the pitch," said Tony Pulis, who suffered when Suárez separated the teams in the Carling Cup in October. "I couldn't have picked a better player for us not to play against. Suárez is a fantastic player." But the latest draw at Anfield was not due to the suspended Uruguayan, either.

From the moment the team-sheets arrived it was clear there was to be no feast of entertainment in Pulis's 400th game as Stoke manager, and unclear as to where in the Liverpool lineup the goals would come from. Dirk Kuyt, without a league goal all season, led the attack in preference to Andy Carroll against Stoke's towering defenders but it was Dalglish's decision to persist with the defensive tactics that sealed the Carling Cup semi‑final first-leg win against Manchester City last Wednesday that determined a damaging afternoon for a team with aspirations to qualify for the Champions League.

Dalglish deploying a three-man central defence is nothing new; he first used it during his debut season as Liverpool manager 27 years ago and the overall formation was a replica of what delivered victory over Stoke at Anfield last season. On this occasion it was rendered redundant before the teams left the changing rooms and could have been altered without curbing the marauding instincts of Glen Johnson and José Enrique on the flanks. But Dalglish, unlike Pulis, was not for turning.

The Stoke manager took one look at Liverpool's team-sheet and promptly moved Jon Walters out of his attack and into a five-man midfield. Martin Skrtel, Jamie Carragher and Sebastián Coates were reduced to marking one man at a stroke and it was immediately apparent that Peter Crouch would be working alone. Liverpool, at home, were set up to contain Stoke. Stoke set out to contain Liverpool.

The end result was a lot of containment. When the alterations finally came it was Carroll at the expense of Stewart Downing, and Craig Bellamy for another £20m summer signing who failed to impose himself, Jordan Henderson. Anfield's frustrations were audible before the procession of late cries for a penalty.

"I thought the way we set up and the way we defended made it very difficult for them," said Walters. "It was basically Peter on his own and me and Matty [Etherington] in midfield, ending up at left-back and right-back. I wasn't surprised they played three at the back because they did it last year. I thought the boys at the back defended very well and kept them to shots from distance in the first half. We would take that all day. They never really got in behind or had a one-on-one with Thomas [Sorensen]."

Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers have scored more league goals than a club who spent £57.8m replenishing their attack 12 months ago and a further £47m to improve the supply in the summer with Downing, Henderson and Charlie Adam, all of whom were too quick to pass responsibility on to Steven Gerrard on Saturday, even if that meant another backwards pass into a harmless area.

Kuyt headed Liverpool's one clear-cut chance horribly wide, Skrtel sent another into the floor and over while Carroll, when not falling over in his slippers, had one decent shout for a spot‑kick refused by the referee Howard Webb as he ran on to the pitch and straight into a Robert Huth headlock. Further penalty appeals, as Pulis put it, "were out of desperation". Even Dalglish admitted that "we got away with a couple as well" and went no further with his criticism than to say: "Howard Webb's a top-class referee? That's some people's opinion."

Carragher said: "Stoke are a tough nut to crack and unfortunately we couldn't break them down. It's been a problem a few times at Anfield. We need to sort that out before the end of the season if we want to get to where we want to be, which is obviously the top four."