Liverpool's faint title ambitions suffered another setback when they were held to a draw at Middlesbrough.
Boateng (bottom) marked his return to the side with a goal
The lacklustre Reds went behind after failing to deal with a Stewart Downing cross and Jeremie Aliadiere nodded back for George Boateng to turn in.
Downing later had a shot tipped on to the post by Pepe Reina before Fernando Torres equalised with a rasping strike.
Liverpool duo Ryan Babel and Steven Gerrard went close with long-range efforts but Boro held firm for a point.
Middlesbrough had shown a steely resolve from the start when they comfortably repelled and broke up anything Liverpool could muster.
The home side hustled and harried the visitors and grew in confidence as the game progressed against a Reds side who were not allowed to settle.
But, despite Liverpool's poor play, they did create a brief threat when Gerrard had an angled strike palmed wide by keeper Mark Schwarzer before Sami Hyypia headed over after rising highest to meet a corner.
Boro heeded the warning and took the lead against their struggling visitors in a move started off by goalscorer Boateng, who was back in the side after being dropped by boss Gareth Southgate.
The midfielder sprayed the ball wide to Downing, whose whipped cross to the far post cross was headed across goal by Gary O'Neil.
Aliadiere then knocked the ball back from the other side of the goal for Boateng to turn in.
Liverpool's defence was in tatters and epitomised the lack of organisation and authority running through their team as Boro took a stranglehold on the match.
Gerrard went off shaking his head at half-time and Reds manager Rafael Benitez re-shuffled his pack at the break by hauling off Alvaro Arbeloa, dropping John Arne Riise into his left-back slot and bringing on winger Babel.
The visitors thought they should have had a penalty when Boro defender Robert Huth nudged Andriy Voronin but the referee had no hesitation in waving away the claim.
Liverpool attempts to get back into the game were thwarted by a hard-working Boro side who carried a constant threat.
Babel fizzed a 25-yard shot agonisingly wide but Liverpool lacked the creativity and quality to break down the uncompromising home defence.
Downing rattled the post when his angled shot was tipped on to the post by Reina at the other end.
O'Neil then hit the rebound over and Boro paid the price for the miss as Torres powered in a 20-yard shot to equalise for the Merseysiders.
Babel sent another long-range effort just wide in an captivating finale to the game as the Reds belatedly piled on the pressure without reward.
Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate:
"Had we got the second when we hit the post, I think we would have won the game.
"But then you look at the guy (Fernando Torres) who scored their goal - I think he cost about as much as our entire 16 - and it is not such a bad result.
"I am really pleased with the performance we gave."
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez:
"In this position, you cannot think about the leaders, you must think about the next game.
"You can play well, you can create chances, but you need to win.
"When you talk about a draw away, sometimes you think that is good, but when you are trying to reduce a gap, you must be disappointed."
Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Young, Wheater, Huth, Grounds, O'Neil, Boateng, Rochemback, Downing, Aliadiere (Hutchinson 73), Sanli.
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Riggott, Lee, Johnson.
Goals: Boateng 26.
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Arbeloa (Babel 46), Gerrard, Mascherano, Benayoun (Alonso 59), Voronin (Kuyt 75), Torres.
Subs Not Used: Itandje, Agger.
Goals: Torres 71.
Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands).
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Middlesbrough's George Boateng 7.28 (on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.