More home agony for Liverpool as Roy Hodgson’s first return to Anfield is marked with a 1-0 victory for West Bromwich Albion.
Kenny Dalglish made four changes from the team that started the FA Cup semi-final victory over Everton last weekend. Club captain Steven Gerrard was rested and therefore returning goalkeeper Pepe Reina took over the armband following the climax of his three-match suspension. Jose Enrique, Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt also came into the first eleven with Jamie Carragher and Stewart Downing amongst the players to miss out.
A lacklustre opening period saw both sides struggle to string a succession of meaningful passes together and consequently neither keeper was forced into any significant action.
Kuyt should have found the net in the 10th minute however after Luis Suarez had set the Dutchman through on goal. The 31-year-old disappointingly dragged his effort wide of the far post despite being afforded ample time and space to find the target.
For West Brom, Chris Blunt had a couple of speculative early efforts from distance but generally Hodgson’s current side struggled, even more so than the hosts, to create any significant openings.
Suarez was again involved on the next occasion Liverpool went close to opening the scoring but Daniel Agger could not quite get on the end of the Uruguayan’s dangerous 18th minute cross.
Moments later and more good work from Suarez almost resulted in a penalty for Maxi but referee Neil Swarbrick decided the Argentine had gone to ground too easily and awarded only a goal kick.
Chances were finally starting to fall for the Merseysiders at this stage but Andy Carroll, Suarez and Maxi all failed to convert decent opportunities in quick succession.
In the 28th minute the returning Reina, who had been largely anonymous until this point, suddenly had to be at his best to pull off a brilliant point-blank save to deny Brunt. The Northern Irishman had managed to sneak between the Liverpool centre-backs and looked certain to score after a perfect flick-on by Shane Long.
The goalmouth action continued as half time approached; Suarez headed a presentable chance onto the roof of the net before the Reds were again indebted to Reina as the Spaniard stood tall to block a firm effort from Liam Ridgewell following a Graham Dorrans corner.
Jay Spearing and Peter Odemwingie exchanged shots from outside of the box before Ben Foster did well to deny Agger with his feet. The Dane showed great footwork at the back post to create the space for a shot but in truth, despite Foster’s intervention, the effort had looked to be going marginally wide.
Looking to avoid dropping more points at Anfield, Liverpool started the second half well and another quality cross from Suarez went begging as nobody in red could turn the ball home.
A great passing move involving Johnson, Suarez and Kuyt preceded a superb strike from Jordan Henderson that thumped against the crossbar. The well-struck effort deserved a goal and on another day the ball could have easily rebounded off the back of Foster and into the net after hitting the woodwork.
Suarez was again looking lively and a fantastic 54th minute run down the goal line effortlessly beat a couple of Baggies’ defenders but having done the hard work the former Ajax man wildly fired high and wide with a number of colleagues better placed.
On the hour mark, Liverpool again got the better of visiting keeper Foster only to be denied by the goal frame once more. Suarez laid the ball into the path of Kuyt who produced a powerful angled drive that swerved onto the foot of the post before deflecting to safety.
After a couple of headed efforts from Carroll went over the bar, the Anfield crowd must have started to wonder if another dominating performance would ultimately go unrewarded.
The worries were almost compounded when Long found himself one-on-one with Reina in the 66th minute but strangely the club’s record signing elected not to shoot and the chance was lost.
A series of crazy goalmouth scrambles then ensued as Liverpool went straight back on the attack in a frantic period of play. A number of efforts looked destined for the back of the net but for a combination of brave blocks and interventions to continue to thwart the hosts.
Downing and Craig Bellamy were introduced at the expense of Kuyt and Maxi as Dalglish continued to look for a deserved opener, but suddenly a mistake from Johnson inexplicably put Liverpool behind.
After initially doing well to dispossess Youssouf Mulumbu, the back-tracking England defender dallied and the ball broke to Odemwingie who clinically finished to put the visitors into an unexpected 75th minute lead.
In the wake of falling behind, the expected Liverpool siege never really materialised although Jonas Olsson was lucky to be in the right place to block a Carroll effort after Foster had fumbled the ball in a dangerous area.
In fact, Keith Andrews even went close to doubling West Brom’s lead with a strike from the edge of the area before a Ridgewell free kick went straight into the net only for Paul Scharner to be correctly penalised for a foul on Reina.
Suarez went close to rescuing a point for Dalglish’s side in injury time but the Baggies comfortably held out for a first ever win at Anfield in the Premier League era and a first away win this season since February.
3 wins in the last 14 and only 5 in 17 overall at home this season is just not good enough. Without doubt the biggest contributing factor is the stat that we have scored fewer goals on our own patch than any other team in the league. Today’s match was unbelievably frustrating and like so many which have gone before, despite dominating possession and controlling the game, we were undone by the fundamentals of football. Efforts on goal, number of corners, territorial dominance, etc etc etc, all count for nothing if you cannot put the ball in the back of the net. It counts for even less if the opposition manages to show you how it is done on one of their rare forays forward. There were periods during today’s game when we looked fantastic but the usual combination of missed chances, bad luck, the woodwork and good keeping/defending conspired to keep us out. This happens on occasion over the course of a season but for us it has happened far too often and despite our cup success, something needs to be done in the summer.
Liverpool’s Star Player
Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Henderson, Spearing (Shelvey 83), Maxi (Downing 74), Kuyt (Bellamy 68), Suarez, Carroll.
Unused subs: Doni, Coates, Carragher, Kelly.
Click here to read Kenny Dalglish’s comments on the match
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