Fortune favours Jordan Henderson and Liverpool

Midfielder knew little about winning goal as Reds defeat Swansea at Liberty Stadium

 Jordan Henderson puts Liverpool ahead in the premier League clash against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/EPA

Jordan Henderson puts Liverpool ahead in the premier League clash against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/EPA

 

Swansea 0 Liverpool 1

Manchester United are back in view as the Liverpool bandwagon rolls on, courtesy of a huge slice of good fortune on what could prove to be a critical night in their quest for a place in the top four.

Jordan Henderson knew little about the goal that settled this contest but that will matter little to a Liverpool side who racked up a fifth successive Premier League victory to close the gap to United to two points before Sunday’s pivotal meeting at Anfield.

Steven Gerrard had been thrown into the fray four minutes earlier as he made his comeback from injury from the bench, but it was the man who has taken over the captaincy from him who struck the critical blow.

Jordi Amat got to the ball first as Henderson burst through the middle in the 68th minute but the Spaniard, making his first start in the league since September, inadvertently knocked the ball off the England international and Lukasz Fabianski was left stranded as it sailed over his head.

Although Liverpool were much improved in the second half defeat felt harsh on Swansea who looked the more accomplished side before the interval but were unable to turn chances into goals.

As for Liverpool, they are unbeaten in 13 league games and this clean sheet means they have gone six top-flight games without conceding for the first time since 1972.

Yet it had been a different story in the first half. manager Brendan Rodgers would have been under no illusions that his team were in for an awkward evening. United and Arsenal, their closest rivals for that coveted top-four spot, were beaten here this season and Swansea started like a team hell-bent on adding Liverpool to their list of scalps.

Garry Monk’s side bristled with intent during an opening 45 minutes when the only thing missing from their performance was a goal. Liverpool, in contrast, looked flat, unable to summon much of a threat going forward, overrun in midfield and grateful to Simon Mignolet for a couple of fine saves and, on two other occasions, Martin Skrtel for being in the right place at the right time to head clear.

At times in that first half, in particular a 10-minute spell just after the half-hour mark, Liverpool were hanging on. Swansea sensed blood. Bafétimbi Gomis, starting 12 days after he fainted at White Hart Lane, caused problems up front with his physical presence, Gylfi Sigurdsson showed some nice touches at the tip of the midfield diamond and Neil Taylor attacked with menace on the left flank.

Swansea’s best chance in that period fell to Gomis in the 31st minute. After playing a neat one-two with Wayne Routledge the Frenchman was bearing down on the Liverpool goal. He could have taken another touch but chose to shoot early, drilling a low effort that was struck well but too close to Mignolet who got down to his right to save. Gomis also escaped earlier in the game when he got away from Emre Can far too easily in the inside-right channel but was stopped in his tracks by a superbly timed tackle from Joe Allen.

On the other side of the pitch Taylor was causing problems with his eagerness to break forward. Henderson picked up an early booking for a mistimed challenge on the Welshman while later in the half Can could not get close enough to foul him. With space opening up invitingly for the Swansea left back, Taylor picked out Sigurdsson who created half a yard of space with a neat Cruyff turn but shot wildly over the bar.

The Icelander fared better moments later with a superb curling effort from the edge of the area that was arcing towards the corner before Mignolet turned it around the upright. Liverpool were living dangerously and there was another reprieve when Jonjo Shelvey met Sigurdsson’s corner with a first-time shot that looked to be heading inside the near post until Adam Lallana got his head in the way and deflected the ball behind.

Apart from a routine save from Lallana’s 20-yard snap-shot, Fabianski had little to do before the interval but that all changed after the restart. Playing with much greater urgency, Liverpool came close to taking the lead in the 58th minute with a lovely move. Daniel Sturridge’s reverse pass liberated Raheem Sterling, the ball was moved onto Philippe Coutinho and the Brazilian must have thought he had scored when we swept a low shot towards the bottom corner. Fabianski, however, dived low to his left and produced a brilliant save to turn the ball around the post.

Liverpool were starting to turn the screw. Allen’s stabbed effort from Lallana’s pull-back drew another save from Fabianski and then came that stroke of luck. Sturridge’s flick, from Skrtel’s pass, released Henderson through the middle. Amat got their first but, making a sliding tackle, succeeded only in knocking the ball on to Henderson’s right leg, sending it looping over the head of Fabianski and into the net. Sturridge came agonisingly close to adding a second when he hit the post in injury time.

(Guardian service)

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