Potters triumph in Liverpool no show

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard reacts after their English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City in Stoke-on-Trent, central England November 13, 2010. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER) NO ONLINE/INTERNET USAGE WITHOUT A LICENCE FROM THE FOOTBALL DATA CO LTD. FOR LICENCE ENQUIRIES PLEASE TELEPHONE ++44 (0)

Stoke City 2-0 Liverpool
Saturday, 13th November, 2010

Liverpool did nothing to improve on a dismal recent away record. As the Reds delivered their second lacklustre performance away from Anfield in a week, with a 2-0 defeat to Stoke City.

Second half goals from Ricardo Fuller and Kenwyne Jones condemned Roy Hodgson’s Reds to a fourth away defeat of the season. Liverpool have now scored just 4 goals in their seven away league games to date. Winning just once on their travels.

Stoke posed no unexpected problems. As anticipated, Tony Pulis’s side were direct, aerial, determined and aggressive. Yet, Liverpool failed to cope with the home side’s playing style. Once again the Reds were undone by opposition who were merely willing to chase down every ball, give them little time in possession and persistently close down and hassle the Liverpool defence and midfield.

We learnt nothing new about Hodgson’s Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium either. The Reds were unable to deal effectively with Stoke’s hard work, hassling and commitment early on. Surrendered possession too easily and lacked attacking outlets.

Then, as the home side’s momentum and work rate tired, Liverpool were not expansive or ambitious enough to capitalise. And were evidently relying on an individual intervention from a Torres or a Gerrard, who were far from the top of their game.

Unsurprisingly, fit again, Sotirios Kyrgiakos returned to the centre of defence. With Jamie Carragher switching to full-back. In an effort to counter the home sides physical and aerial threat.

Aside from that Hodgson’s team selection was unchanged. Dirk Kuyt supported Fernando Torres in attack. Whilst the manager persisted with Raul Meireles on the right-wing. Consequently Liverpool were, again, far too narrow and were rarely afforded outlets on the flanks when going forward.

The combination of Meireles and Maxi Rodriguez on the wings – both of whom prefer to cut inside, and neither of whom are inclined to take on defenders – seems to make Liverpool an easier proposition to defend against. With everything going through the middle, Stoke could too easily crowd out the visitors. Whilst any direct balls forward gave, lone-striker, Torres little chance against burly centre-backs Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross.

Stoke began the game with greater intensity and determination than the visitors. Quality football was at a premium from either side. And, in fact, that theme persisted throughout the evening.

But all of the action was taking place in the Liverpool half. And the home fans had a claim for a penalty when Maxi collided with Fuller in the penalty area. Pepe Reina then had to be alert to palm away Matthew Etherington’s long-range effort and Dean Whitehead shot over from outside the box. Both after the Reds failed to pick up second balls having partially cleared direct balls into their box.

On a rare foray forward, Steven Gerrard produced a decent save from Asmir Begovic with a drive from distance. But Liverpool’s attacking presence was virtually non-existent.
Liverpool struggled to relieve the pressure and were too often guilty of negativity and wasting possession. Fuller’s ball through to Jones caught out a Liverpool defence which had previously coped well with the strong, direct Stoke forwards. Jones failed to capitalise, but his ball across goal was almost turned in by Etherington – Carragher covering well.

Gerrard shot well wide of Begovic’s goal from outside the area in response. But the Stoke City pressure eventually told in 56th minute. And the nature of the goal was somewhat in-keeping with what had preceeded.

It was Fuller who profited when the Jamaican stabbed the ball over the line, after ‘the definition of’ goalmouth scrambles had ensued. Rory Delap launched one of his trademark long throws into the penalty area. The ball ricocheted around the box but the Reds failed to clear the danger. Fuller’s first attempt was blocked but his second found the back of the net.

Having gained a deserved advantage, a Stoke City victory rarely looked in doubt. The Potters continued to press and Jones hit a shot not far wide of Reina’s post having got the better of Martin Skrtel. As Liverpool resembled a beaten side.

The Reds, though, almost found themselves level midway through the second half. A rare moment of good play form Kuyt, having got behind the Stoke defence wide on the right of the penalty area, found Maxi well-placed. The Argentine’s shot, through the legs of Begovic, almost found the back of the net. However the ‘keeper just about kept it out.

Torres was largely a dejected, solitary figure upfront. The Spaniard received virtual no quality service all evening. Although, Torres was himself way off the pace and offered little threat. Despite his recent upturn in form.

Hodgson belatedly looked at take the game to their hosts. David N’Gog was introduced and then Ryan Babel, available again after injury. The Dutchman picked the ball up deep and sent a powerful effort wide soon after his introduction.

However Stoke finally put the game beyond any doubt in the first minute of stoppage time. Former Liverpool winger, Jermaine Pennant, picked up the ball in midfield and ran at the faltering Reds defence. His pass released Jones through the heart of the Liverpool backline. The striker made no mistake, slotting past Reina for 2-0.

To compound the travelling fans misery, the Reds were reduced to 10-men for the final moments when Lucas received a second yellow card for a foul on Etherington.

Hodgson concluded afterwards that he felt Liverpool had coped well with Stoke’s direct, long ball approach for the most part. Yet, the fundamental question should surely be, why Liverpool are approaching games against such teams primarily focused on coping with their threat.

Should they not be looking, first and foremost, to take the game to teams of this calibre? Actually focusing on winning, rather than avoiding defeat, from the outset. On this evidence we can expect many more ugly and forgettable away days, like this one, to come.

Man of the Match
Though one to call because no one stood out. But Gerrard gets the vote. Far from his best but, as ever, the midfielder always seemed the most likely figure to inspire a fight back or salvage something from a drab performance.

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