GLEN JOHNSON’S header five minutes from time cruelly denied Stoke City what would have been a well-deserved point at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
The England defender diverted the ball home from close range in front of the Kop after Rickie Lambert’s header came back off the crossbar.
It will be a bitter blow for Mark Hughes’ side to take after more than holding their own against Liverpool with the Potters creating a number of good opportunities to have left Merseyside with at least a point.
City can however take heart from their performance as they face Manchester United and Arsenal in their next two fixtures, with Bojan the visitors’ standout performer.
He saw two second half efforts denied, his first striking the post with Simon Mignolet beaten, whilst his second, a venomous volley, tipped over the crossbar by the Belgian goalkeeper.
With Liverpool entering the game on the back of five games without a win in all competitions City looked to slow down the tempo of the encounter from the off and stifle their opponents to the annoyance of the home support.
As City continued to restrict the hosts space they gradually grew the more accomplished side in and out of possession despite suffering a setback in the 21st minute when shortly after Rickie Lambert landed awkwardly on Steve Sidwell, the former Fulham midfielder had to be replaced by boyhood Liverpool fan Glenn Whelan.
Despite Hughes’ side having a stranglehold on the match, it was the Merseyside outfit who had the first opportunity when Whelan’s foul presented Lambert with an opportunity from 30 yards but the England international fired well over into the Anfield New Road stand.
The Potters were being roared on by a vocal travelling support with a number of songs aimed at the City substitutes as they warmed up and it almost spurred the starting 11 to take the lead after Diouf pulled the ball back to Jonathan Walters but the forward stabbed wide when under pressure from Johnson.
Brendan Rodgers’ side tried to grab hold of the initiative in the closing stages of the first half but all they could muster was a jinking run from Philippe Countinho who was eventually crowded out by a determined City defence as the Brazilian entered the area.
The away side were forced into a further change before the second period got underway as Whelan had to retire from the game and be replaced by former Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam.
The second 45 minutes were in stark contrast to the first with Liverpool looking the livelier and on the front foot from the off with Raheem Sterling instantly causing problems down the left.
It was fellow England international Jordan Henderson however who almost broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute when a throughball was intercepted and cleared into the midfielder’s path but he fired a 20-yard shot just wide of Asmir Begovic’s upright.
The quicker tempo and open nature of the second period however did have its benefits for the Potters but Diouf spurned a good opportunity when put through by Bojan’s 30-yard pass as he directed the ball at the legs of the onrushing Simon Mignolet from a tight angle.
City went even closer as the clock struck the hour mark when the livewire Bojan cut in from the left and unleashed a powerful strike against the near post before being unable to reposition himself to divert the rebound home in front of the travelling support.
The home side instantly went down the other end with Sterling firing wide before Arnautovic’s was almost punished for a stray pass as Lucas fired a shot into the palms of the thankful Begovic.
Liverpool were starting to have the better of the chances but were unable to find a way past Begovic who thwarted Lambert’s effort from the edge-of-the-area with relative ease before seeing Joe Allen crash a shot against the crossbar from 10 yards following Sterling’s pull back.
The Potters still remained a threat however as Adam’s shot from the corner of the box was pushed away with two hands by Mignolet, while Mame Diouf had an effort cleared off the line from four yards by Sterling on the far post.
The introduction of Steven Gerrard from the home bench spurred on the vast majority of the crowd inside Anfield and shortly after his introduction the Merseyside club took the lead.
A ball was flighted up to Lambert whose looping header came back off the crossbar and out to Johnson who followed in the ball and pounced bravely from six yards in front of the Kop.
City threw on Peter Crouch with seven minutes of stoppage time and when a high ball towards the big frontman was knocked down into the path of Bojan, the Spanish international saw a ferocious volley expertly tipped over the bar to deny City their first ever league goal at Anfield since 1983.
On his 300th appearance for the Potters, Ryan Shawcross had Stoke’s final opportunity to try and salvage a draw in the dying moments but the captain was unable to direct his header from an Adam corner towards an unguarded far post.