Stoke 3: Walters 5' 49', Jones 12'
Liverpool 1: Gerrard (pen.) 2'
That Brendan Rodgers selected an unchanged eleven from the win over Fulahm was both surprising and not; the opposition was clearly very different, which made Suso's stay in the eleven a bit of a shock, but the manager's shown a tendency to stick with what works at times, particularly when he's got a full squad to choose from. Stewart Downing starting again was expected, as was Jonjo Shelvey, and Joe Allen--who'd apparently suffered a pelvic injury--was again on the bench, with Jordan Henderson again left out.
There wasn't much time to discuss the starting eleven before Liverpool scored, as a punt downfield from Martin Skrtel found a streaking Luis Suarez, who managed to break into the box before being dragged down by Ryan Shawcross. It was a blatant penalty, and Howard Webb had little choice but to book the not-that-type-of-player and award Liverpool their first spot-kick in what seemed like ages. Despite the time off Steven Gerrard ably converted, and within two minutes Liverpool had a lead at the Britannia.
It was a short-lived lead, though, as a defensive calamity led to a comically simple equalizer from Jonathan Walters. Shawcross' boot led to an errant Daniel Agger header and slip from Martin Skrtel, and Walters was left unchallenged on Pepe Reina's goal, and the bulky forward easily sent Reina the wrong way to level the score and erase Liverpool's impossibly early lead.
It only got worse from there, with more shotty defending allowing for Stoke to take the lead. This time it was Agger losing his marker and Glen Johnson failing at the near post, leaving Kenwyne Jones all alone to nod past Reina. Little changed before the hosts extended their lead after the break, with Walters controlling well and deceiving Agger before looping a volley in to give Stoke a two-goal lead.
Liverpool had little to offer from there, unfortunately, and Stoke came away comfortable winners in a match that started so brightly but ended in a frighteningly familiar manner.
It's disappointing to have seen a lead so easily given away, but with pessimism reigning ahead of today's match, the penalty in the opening minutes--as glorious as it was given the club's inability to earn them rightly or wrongly earlier in the season--was always going to give way to punishment. Stoke delivered, Liverpool didn't, and they're left ruing the inability to create any opportunities that would have seen them claw back into the match.
There wasn't much in the way of fight-back, and Brendan Rodgers' choices again lend themselves to critiques and criticism. Stewart Downing regressed to the mean, offering little in attack, Suso was solid before being taken off for Raheem Sterling, and Jonjo Shelvey managed to survive all ninety minutes despite being one of Liverpool's worst on the night. It was terrible from back to front; none of the back line were up to their best, as both Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel struggled and neither of Jose Enrique or Glen Johnson were able to impact the match for the better.
Today's a day better left forgotten, full stop. Stoke did what they always do and were quite successful, and Liverpool unfortunately did what they've become accustomed to doing as well--inconsistent and ineffective after signs of encouragement just a few days earlier. Something needs changing and fast, and those pinning their hopes on January might be disappointed even further.
We need to be patient, yes, and Brendan Rodgers needs time. But all involved need to start righting some of the wrongs we've witnessed far too often over the past few seasons.