Liverpool beat profligate Southampton to climb to sixth

Saints denied numerous penalty shouts but Brendan Rodger’s side are clinical at St Mary’s

Southampton 0 Liverpool 2

The Liverpool revival has propelled them to the cusp of the Champions League places. This was a hugely significant victory, arguably the most impressive this season given it was chiselled out from opponents who remain a point better off, and served to reinforce the impression that momentum is with those from Merseyside. A solitary loss in 18 matches tells its own story.

Brendan Rodgers' punch of the air when Raheem Sterling registered the visitors' second here betrayed the importance of the win, though success over a Southampton side who have impressed all season will have meant even more to a trio of players in the Liverpool manager's ranks. Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert have spent this campaign struggling to justify last summer's desertion to the north-west. While all three remain bit-part players at their new club, theirs would have been collective sigh of relief at a victorious return to their old stomping ground. The top four is now just two points away.

For Southampton, a club whose outlook has been rightly and wholly positive, the defeat felt damaging. The hosts had been infuriated by their deficit at the interval, the frustration heightened when plausible penalty appeals at the beginning and end of the first half went rejected by the referee, Kevin Friend. Filip Djuricic, on his first start since his loan move from Benfica, might have earned two spot-kicks in the opening four minutes. Emre Can certainly had his right hand on the midfielder's shoulder as he tumbled in the opening 20 seconds, while there was contact again on the Serb from Joe Allen, knocking the attacker off balance, as the ball ricocheted around the area dangerously moments later. Simon Mignolet's fine save from Eljero Elia's attempt in that confusion rather drew the focus away from the potential offence.


By then the visitors had forced themselves clear in startling fashion. Coutinho was granted a pocket of space 30 yards out in which to collect Lazar Markovic’s pass, spin the ball out of his feet and conjure a shot of such vicious whip and dip that Fraser Forster was rendered utterly helpless as it careered in off the underside of the bar. The home supporters had been busy bellowing their appraisal of Lovren’s summer transfer fee at the time, their chorus rather choked by Coutinho’s sheer brilliance. Yet, other than an appeal for a penalty as José Fonte slid in to take both ball and Sterling, Liverpool laboured to impose themselves thereafter.

The game rather drifted, the quality too often drowned in the freezing downpour, until Elia scurried clear just before the interval and Mignolet’s charge to meet him saw ball cannon from chest on to arm and away. Southampton were incensed at the lack of sanction yet again, their mood hardly improved when the ball struck Lovren’s right arm before it was hacked clear by the returning centre-half in stoppage time at the end of the half. It was the Croatia defender who bore the brunt of the home support’s vitriol, with Lallana’s touches also drawing chants of derision before his withdrawal just after the hour-mark. His father was watching from the away support, his mother having opted against attending.

Of the trio of ex-Southampton players back in familiar haunts, only the unused substitute Lambert was serenaded with any affection by the locals as he warmed up on the touchline. In truth, his cutting edge of old was what the hosts most obviously lacked. Martin Skrtel blocked from the substitute, Sadio Mané, but the home side's threat was only ever fitful and, increasingly, anxiety and sloppiness set in.

When Morgan Schneiderlin surrendered possession to Alberto Moreno 17 minutes from time, the Spaniard was able to exchange passes with Sterling before squaring into the penalty area. Matt Targett should have cleared only to stumble in the sodden conditions, his heavy touch presenting the ball back to Sterling who gratefully thumped in a second.