Liverpool record their first Premier League victory since October 19 as Stoke City are edged out by a late goal at Anfield…
Having seen his side show signs of improvement in the Champions League draw with Ludogorets Razgrad on Wednesday night, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers stuck with experienced duo Kolo Toure and Lucas Leiva.
There were changes elsewhere though with fit-again left-back Jose Enrique handed a rare start and, most notably, Philippe Coutinho recalled at the expense of captain Steven Gerrard, who was rested ahead of a busy December schedule.
Perhaps as a direct consequence of their continued quest for defensively solidity, Rickie Lambert cut an isolated presence up top for prolonged periods of the opening half.
Goalmouth action was actually at a premium at both ends as under-fire home keeper Simon Mignolet also remained largely untested.
Stoke’s fluidity wasn’t helped by an early injury to midfielder Steve Sidwell, and his replacement, Glenn Whelan, would also fail to reappear after the break.
A driving run by Coutinho, which had the visiting defenders back-peddling, was probably the highlight of a subdued first half but the little Brazilian could only poke an effort wide of the target.
In complete contrast to the opening 45 minutes, both sides were much more positive after the break and the match eventually developed into an exciting, often end-to-end, affair.
Skipper for the day Jordan Henderson was fractionally off target with an impressive, improvised left-footed volley before Mignolet advanced well to thwart Mame Biram Diouf.
As the half progressed, former Barcelona player Bojan Krkic rose to the fore and he was just inches away from opening the scoring with a powerful right-footed shot that cannoned against the post on the hour mark.
Raheem Sterling was the next to threaten but the teenage winger’s angled effort flashed across goal after an impressive run.
Sterling was heavily involvement again minutes later when the deadlock finally looked destined to be broken but, after being thread through by the England international, Lucas shot unconvincingly and straight at Potters shot-stopper Asmir Begovic.
The hosts were now creating chances at regular intervals and Joe Allen went agonisingly close to adding the finishing touch to a slick passing move involving Coutinho and Sterling.
Despite finally introducing Gerrard into proceedings, Liverpool almost fell behind to an 81st minute corner when Diouf’s close-range strike was blocked on the line by Sterling.
It was a key moment and another would follow four minutes later when Glen Johnson bravely stooped to head home a rebound after Lambert had struck the Stoke crossbar with a header of his own.
The goal came at some cost to the full-back who sustained a nasty cut to his head in the process.
Partly as a consequence there was a considerable amount of stoppage time and Mignolet was needed to tip over a late Bojan volley that was heading into the top corner.
The joy that greeted the final whistle was filled with relief as Liverpool recorded just their second win in the last nine matches.
It was far from pretty or convincing but this could prove to be a vital three points. A little harsh on Stoke perhaps but we did create the better chances once the game finally got going following a drab opening. Although understandable, as we continue to search for the right balance, we were far too deep and negative in the first half. By contrast, there were a couple of spells of quick passing and high-pressing in the final quarter of the game that raised memories of the football that went so close to supplying an unexpected league title last season. The joy displayed by Rodgers, after Johnson grabbed the only goal of the game, showed exactly what the three points meant to him at the end of a testing week. There is no time to rest and take stock however with the Reds back in action on Tuesday night. The trip to Leicester City, who are now bottom of the table, will hopefully provide us with another opportunity to continue the recovery and build momentum as we head into the hectic festive period.
Raheem Sterling – The impish wideman’s goal line block, minutes before Johnson’s strike, was a pivotal moment. Sterling also showed plenty of thrust and endeavour going forward and, after also impressing against Ludogorets, there are certainly signs that he is coming back into form.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Toure, Enrique, Lucas (Gerrard 75′), Allen, Henderson, Coutinho (Lovren 88′), Sterling, Lambert.
Unused subs: Jones, Moreno, Can, Lallana, Markovic.
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