Stoke City 1-0 Liverpool
Liverpool were left to rue some tough luck, as well as a lack of composure in front of goal. As they succumbed to their first defeat of the season, at a venue which has become something of a persistent source of frustration.
It would be difficult to be overly critical of this defeat. Whilst a reliance on pure statistics can often be misleading; a glance at the post-match stats are telling. 24 efforts at goal to Stoke City’s 3. 12 corners compared to the home sides 2. And 73% possession.
Liverpool dominated this match from start to finish and yet came away with scant reward for their efforts.
Some rather awry finishing in front of goal aside, the Reds could well have run out winners by three clear goals on any other day. Dalglish’s team may not be as dominate, or create as many chances, in any other game this season. And yet the Reds will undoubtedly win many of those matches.
Yet, Liverpool’s Britannia Stadium hoodoo failed to subside – the Reds have now failed to win in four attempts since Stoke’s return to the top-flight and have still just a solitary goal to their name in that time.
Indeed, Liverpool may have lacked any luck in the final third, but they suffered equal misfortune with the match official’s.
Dalgish, uncharacteristically, exhibited his frustration at having witnessed referee, Mark Clattenburg award the hosts a hugely questionable, but ultimately decisive, spot kick. Whilst also dismissing at least one clear claim for a penalty of their own.
Stoke, for their part, were resilient throughout, despite showing very little in terms of ambition when in possession. This was a typical performance from Tony Pulis’ Stoke. A style which the whole Premier League has become accustomed to over recent seasons. And a style which the Reds have realised to be persistently difficult to contend with.
Liverpool were dominant in midfield and enjoyed the bulk of possession for the vast majority of the game. Although the visitors passing failed to meet the standards of previous games; they were still able to create enough chances to have taken something from the game.
The hosts were content to keep their shape, absorb any Liverpool threat and look to pose a threat from any intermittent set-pieces. Yet, the Potters got their reward on 21 minutes.
Jonathan Walters chased down a ball over the top of the Liverpool defence. The Stoke forward involved himself in a tussle for possession with Jamie Carragher. Yet Carragher appeared to have done enough to see off the danger, only for Clattenburg to surprisingly point to the spot.
Walters picked himself up to send the kick down the middle and beyond Pepe Reina for what proved to be the winning goal.
From there on in it was virtually a case of attack versus defence. Luis Suarez again formed the focal point of Liverpool’s attack. With able support from Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson. As Andy Carroll was again left on the bench.
The tireless Suarez had a succession of chances in the first half, both before and after the Stoke penalty. Most notably when he was denied by a fine block from Ryan Shawcross, with Asmir Begovic struggling. Stand-in full-back, Martin Skrtel, should also have shown greater composure but blazed his shot over the bar, having been laid off by Suarez.
The Reds also had a clear claim for a penalty early on when a Stoke defender handled in the area.
Liverpool doubled their efforts after the break. Henderson had the best chance of the lot when he was sent clear by Jose Enrique, only to shoot straight at Begovic.
Then followed a frantic period of play during which Liverpool had four further efforts on goal in succession – two from Henderson and two from Charlie Adam. All, though, were denied by either Begovic or a Stoke defender and somehow the hosts cleansheet remained intact.
The defensive efforts of Pulis’s side were boarding on gargantuan. Shawcross and Robert Huth were particularly effective in repelling Liverpool’s continued efforts.
Yet more opportunities fell the way of the visitors. Downing sent a header straight at Begovic when well positioned. Before Dalglish showed his hand by introducing both Carroll and new boy, Craig Bellamy, from the bench. A sign of the increasing depth which the Reds have acquired from their summer shopping spree.
Liverpool had another, admittedly less clear-cut, call for a penalty as the game reached its conclusion. The ball again striking the arm of a Stoke defender – this time Matthew Upson from an attempted Suarez cross.
But confirmation that this really was not to be Liverpool’s day came in the dying seconds. Suarez sending a close-range chance narrowly the wrong side of the post. The Uruguayan was under pressure but on any other occasion would have been backed to have found the back of the net.
This result can hardly be considered destructive to Liverpool’s season at such an early stage. But a first defeat of the campaign will certainly take the shine off what has been an otherwise encouraging start to the new season.
Liverpool were left frustrated at the final whistle, rather than overly concerned over the standard of performance. The Reds can take some positives in defeat. This was certainly an improved effort on the last couple of showings at the Britannia.
In truth, this was as good an example as any of the narrow margins between success and disappointment in top level competition. Had Stoke been denied their penalty and Liverpool taken at least one of their clear-cut chances, this would have been viewed as a hard-fought victory from a difficult away fixture.
However, with all of the other expected challengers for the top four positions claiming victories this weekend and some difficult fixtures to come over the coming month. Liverpool would be well advised to swiftly erase this set-back from their system. Ergo ensuring that this is merely a temporary check in an otherwise upward curve.
Man of the Match
Tenacious in midfield as ever. The Brazilian has picked up this season the way he ended the last. Integral in maintaining his team’s, ultimately fruitless, efforts.