Liverpool defender Jon Flanagan admits he knew he had to win his duel with former team-mate Raheem Sterling in order to give fans something to shout about.
Less than 30 seconds into the Reds’ 3-0 win over Manchester City the full-back, making his first Premier League start since May 2014, sent the England winger flying with a crunching-but-fair tackle.
Anfield roared its approval for one of their home-grown own and the tone was set for the rest of the night.
Sterling managed just 45 minutes, which saw Flanagan get the better of him on several occasions – not least with a superb last-ditch tackle to prevent the ex-Reds forward shooting with only goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to beat – before being hauled off at the break.
Flanagan had done his job as Sterling’s first return following his £49million summer move ended disappointingly.
“It was something I had to do to get the crowd up,” the 23-year-old told Press Association Sport about that first challenge which knocked Sterling off his feet.
“The crowd have been fantastic, always right behind me even in the dark days.
“Me and Raheem were good mates at Liverpool but now he’s gone to City it is just business on the pitch.”
The way Flanagan went about his business, playing in his favoured right-back slot with Nathaniel Clyne switching to the left, was warmly welcomed by fans who are desperate to see the academy graduate flourish after two knee operations sidelined him for a season.
It has left him anxiously waiting to see if the contract which expires this summer will be renewed – the way manager Jurgen Klopp spoke in his pre-match press conference about Flanagan suggests that should not be an issue – and what he really needs is a run of games.
“It is great to be back in the Premier League. It has been a nightmare with injuries,” added Flanagan, who made his long-awaited senior comeback in the FA Cup replay against Exeter in January.
“I am feeling good and fit and sharp so I am just trying to get as many games as possible.
“I am just leaving that side (his contract) to my agent to see what happens but it was great to hear those words from the manager in the press conference.”
Klopp has often talked glowingly about the defender but after his injury problems the Reds boss knows he will have to be managed carefully.
“We don’t talk about quality. We talk about 20 months [out] – that is really unusual,” said the German.
“We have to sit together tomorrow and think about what we can do with Flanno.
“The Premier League is about playing Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday and we have to think about this.”
The manner of the win was just as important as exacting some revenge over City for their Capital One Cup final victory on penalties three days earlier and moving Liverpool to within six points of their fourth-placed rivals.
“I think we put a statement out. We had to bounce back as we were all disappointed after the final,” added Flanagan.
“I think we were 11th before the game and that is not us, we are not going to stop there, we are going to climb the table because it is quite tight round there from fourth to eighth or ninth.”