Walters's double helps Stoke to keep the home fires burning
Stoke C 3 Liverpool 1: These feel like the best of times for Stoke City. This Jon Walters-inspired dismissal of a Liverpool side groping for consistency extended Stoke’s club record unbeaten run in the league to nine matches.
Stoke shrugged off the disappointment of conceding an early penalty to Luis Suarez, which they protested followed an exaggerated fall from the striker. Steven Gerrard’s finish, though, was merely the prompt for them to show their quality.
Walters was the star turn, and his second goal was the game’s outstanding moment, a chest-and-volley one-two punch that floored Liverpool. The visitors found no answers. Suarez was a thorn in Stoke’s side, his quicksilver movement, vision and low centre-of-gravity turns marking him out as a menace but he lacked support.
Defensive slackness undermined Liverpool and Stoke took full advantage to prolong their undefeated league sequence at the Britannia Stadium. Suarez had heard his name jeered by the home crowd and, only 35 seconds in, he deepened his infamy in their eyes. There was a breathtaking quality about his touch and explosive surge away from Ryan Shawcross, which took him from the inside-right channel into the box, and there was much to admire about his upper-body strength.
Suarez had beaten Shawcross, he felt the defender grab a fistful of his shirt and he went down. It was a penalty. Shawcross should not have laid his hands on him. As a red flare banged to life inside the visiting enclosure, Gerrard rolled Liverpool’s first penalty of the season past Asmir Begovic.
Liverpool’s dream start, though, was rubbed out in almost the time it took the red smoke to clear. The equaliser was a bad goal to concede. Daniel Agger leapt with Kenwyne Jones to contest Shawcross’s long ball and when it broke for Walters, Martin Skrtel slipped and the Stoke forward was in. His finish was cool.
Stoke’s second was a calamity from Liverpool’s point of view. Agger failed to track Jones from Glenn Whelan’s corner and Glen Johnson, having left his station on the post, could only divert Jones’ header into the corner.
Liverpool fashioned the chances to restore parity before the interval in what was an open and entertaining first half. Suarez bristled with menace, Jonjo Shelvey’s heavy touch let him down badly when well placed and Gerrard’s first-time effort from Stewart Downing’s cross flashed narrowly wide. But Stoke were left to curse Pepe Reina for a pair of vital saves that denied Matthew Etherington.
Stoke’s pressing was impressive but it was Walters’ second goal early in the second half that stirred the passions. It followed a tried-and-trusted Stoke formula – the long throw-in and flicked header on – but there could be no jibes from the purists about Walters’ conversion. With space tight, the striker controlled on his chest with his first touch and steered a glorious volley high into the corner.
Walters’ volley asked Liverpool to press on but, a late Gerrard pot-shot apart, they did not threaten. The Merseyside club have not won at this ground in the Premier League. The angst goes on.