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Liverpool 2, Stoke City 1: Suarez Finds the Mark

suarez celebration stoke
Stoke City 1 Jones 44'
Liverpool 2 Suarez 54' 85'

After the first half it seemed as though it was going to be the same old story for Liverpool: Possession, passing, at times slick play, and an inability to finish. Throw in a Kenwyne Jones goal a minute before the break after sloppy defending led to Stoke's first and only chance of the half, a hostile venue, and another referee who seemed determined not to call anything on Luis Suarez, and it had the makings of a hugely frustrating day for the visitors. And on top of all that, Liverpool had yet to come from behind in victory since Kenny Dalglish took over.

All of which—the club's recent struggles, the negative narrative about Luis Suarez being pushed by the English media, and that chronic inability to hit a wide-open goal from two feet away—made what happened next all the more gratifying. Suarez, in the middle of another testing match where nothing seemed to be quite going his way, from the ref's decisions to chances slid inches wide, collected the ball at the edge of Stoke's eighteen-yard box and was immediately faced with two defenders and no clear route on goal. It wouldn't be enough to stop two moments of brilliance in quick succession, as he nutmegged the closest defender and blew between his markers before curling a shot around another onrushing Stoke defender and just past the outreached fingers of Thomas Sorensen.

It was Liverpool's goal of the season to date, a throwback to the wonder-goals Suarez routinely conjured up after first joining the club. He might have still been creating chances in recent weeks, turning defenders and embarrassing opponents, but the deadly finishing touch he'd had at last year's World Cup and that had continued right through the first few weeks of the current season seemed to have deserted him. Combined with that newly forming media narrative that he was a cheat as proposed by Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson—a narrative even some Liverpool fans seemed too willing to buy into—and it almost seemed like two touches to redemption for the talented firebrand.

That it came during a painful stretch of futility in front of goal for the club as a whole, and that it came against a side that seems to frustrate Liverpool no matter how well they play, only made it better. And leading up to that point, Stoke had certainly frustrated Liverpool. Sorensen in particular seemed set to become the latest goalkeeper in a long line to have their game of the season against the Reds, foiling numerous half chances and more than a couple that were somewhat more than that. In particular, a blast from Martin Kelly and a well worked move that saw the ball pinged from Daniel Agger to Lucas, Maxi, Lucas again, and finally to Suarez clear on goal only for the Danish keeper to spread out and stop what should have been a tap in stood out.


On the whole, though, what stood out the most was that Liverpool dominated possession. Then they dominated it some more. And then their opponent went and converted their only decent chance. This time around, that chance was gifted by Sebastian Coates, who might have been Liverpool's man of the match were it not for one moment that marred an otherwise perfect day for the young defender. A long clearance by Sorensen dropped near the left touchline, and rather than knocking it out for a throw Coates let it bounce. Then, rather than knocking it clear on the first hop, he let it bounce a second time. When he tried to control it as it dropped towards the pitch once again, he paid for that indecision, and seconds later Liverpool paid for it too as Kenwyne Jones headed home the ensuing cross.

It wasn't all on Coates, though, as Jamie Carragher fell asleep in the middle, dropping far too deep and ignoring the onrushing Jones until it was too late to react to the ball sailing in. And with the ball coming down so near the touchline and Stoke's Rory Delap already causing problems with his long throws, a moment of indecisiveness from a young defender hoping it would bounce out for a Liverpool throw is perhaps understandable. Still, there's a reason centre backs are told to never let the ball hit the ground in situations such as that, and Coates and Liverpool seemed set to pay dearly for that lapse in judgement until the deadly Suarez woke from his recent slumbers.

Elsewhere, Maxi and Andy Carroll made strong arguments that they should be given more minutes in the coming weeks, while Daniel Agger was largely composed and effective at left back even if he was never likely to match the quality of Jose Enrique. At least this time around Agger seemed a genuine option as an emergency back up, something he hadn't managed on the handful of occasions he played there last season. In midfield, too, it was a strong performance from Jay Spearing as he once again partnered Lucas Leiva as he had towards the end of last season, and once again it seemed perhaps the club's surest pairing in the middle of the park.

Still, without Suarez finding his range in the end, none of that would have much mattered, and it would have been easy to point to Agger's final delivery being a touch weak, to Carroll continuing to appear meek when he did receive the ball in front of goal, and to Spearing offering less going forward than some of the club's other options. And in the end, just when the match seemed set to go to extra time and maybe even penalties after that, Suarez found his range again when Jordan Henderson chipped in a beautifully weighted early cross for the striker to head past a stranded Sorensen.

Stoke would frantically try to draw level in the final minutes, Liverpool old boy Peter Crouch sending their best chance just over the bar before the squad of rough and tumble players began throwing themselves to the ground in Liverpool's box in an attempt to draw a penalty—an ugly addition to Stoke's already ugly style of play. It wouldn't be enough. Liverpool would win for the first time under Dalglish after trailing. Suarez would hit the back of the net twice in a dominating performance. And after a frustrating few weeks, if you squinted just right, it could almost seem as though things were finally starting to break Liverpool's way once again.

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