Liverpool continue to test patience
Liverpool 0 Stoke City 0: BRENDAN RODGERS outlined his vision on the day he was appointed Liverpool manager. “I want to make coming to Anfield the longest 90 minutes of an opponent’s life,” he said in June. It was all part of the learning curve when Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United departed undefeated but it threatens the patience when Stoke City join the ranks of the unscathed.
Anfield delivered on that score, saving its wrath for Stoke’s physicality, to earn another glowing tribute from Rodgers. But there is not an inexhaustible supply, as the last Liverpool manager to start a season with six points from seven games quickly discovered. The Liverpool of Rodgers and Roy Hodgson are worlds apart in terms of style, promise and belief in the manager, yet it is now four Premier League home matches without a win and the only arduous aspect against Stoke was in the watching.
Rodgers saw it differently. “It was a physical game but there are no complaints from us,” he said. “I just thought it was brilliant to see the young players cope well in that type of environment. The attitude and application was fantastic but the final touch or pass wasn’t always there. I also thought the crowd was fantastic. This is a club that has won only two league games at home in this calendar year and has not won two consecutive home league games in almost a year. So to get that backing off the crowd was terrific.”
Liverpool could have pinched victory in the 90th minute when Martin Skrtel flicked against a post but this was an unconvincing display. The campaign to secure a penalty for Luis Suarez this season also suffered a self-inflicted blow when the Uruguay international executed a ludicrous dive over Marc Wilson’s foot in an attempt to win a second-half spot-kick. “I haven’t seen the incident so cannot comment,” said Rodgers.
Tony Pulis was forthright. He said: “Retrospective decisions are made on a Monday and Luis Suarez should be punished.” Stoke ended with six bookings and a €31,000 FA fine.
Injury cost Michael Owen a place in the squad and Anfield an opportunity to bait their former striker. But another former Liverpool player almost made a quick impact. Charlie Adam seized on a back-pass from Nuri Sahin after the on-loan midfielder found himself with few options when collecting a short goalkick from Jose Reina, under orders to play his way out from the back. The Liverpool goalkeeper smothered Adam’s shot at close range. The moment again demonstrated how Rodgers’ instructions are a work in progress and how, by pressing the Liverpool midfield when Reina takes possession, their play can be easily disrupted. It was repeated when Steven N’Zonzi intercepted another Reina clearance and Michael Kightly’s chip forced the former into a tip-over save.
Stoke had also gone close when Glen Whelan’s free-kick flashed across goal and Skrtel hooked clear as Peter Crouch lurked at the back post. Liverpool’s first threat took 27 minutes to arrive, Asmir Begovic pushing away Steven Gerrard’s drive from 30 yards, but as the Spaniard Suso grew into his first league start at Anfield and Suarez began to find space, their performance improved.
Liverpool were preoccupied by perceived leniency from the referee, Lee Mason, as Stoke responded to their opponents’ recovery through fair means and foul. Some grievances were imagined but not those against Robert Huth. The German defender appeared to stamp on Suarez early on and also escaped a booking when he clattered into Suarez’s ankle in the centre circle. Less than 10 minutes later he brought down the Uruguay international in mid-flight and was shown yellow.
Pulis’s team were on the back foot in the second half and Glen Johnson twice went close to scoring, the first a shot from distance saved by Begovic and the second when sent clear by Gerrard’s pass only to loft his effort over. Raheem Sterling side-footed against the outside of a post, Suarez shot inches wide after a good run and, finally, Skrtel shaved the woodwork.
The absence of a Plan B – otherwise known as Andy Carroll – cost Liverpool. “I don’t do the desperation thing in the last 10 minutes where you’re kicking it long,” was Rodgers’ response to that.