Stoke City 3 Liverpool 5
Stoke City Crouch 39’, Adam 45’, Walters 85’ Liverpool Shawcross (og) 05’, Suarez 32’, 70’, Gerrard (pen) 51’, Sturridge 87’
Man of the match Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Stoke // Extraordinary, simply extraordinary.
It was stoppage time in Stoke, eight goals had already been scored and Liverpool were on course to end a 30-year wait.
Then Peter Crouch headed against the post, Luis Suarez almost completed his hat-trick with a thunderous shot and Steven Gerrard came close to an own goal – and that was just the final four minutes.
Over the course of a classic, Liverpool’s potent attacking meant their porous defending did not cost them. Their present saw off their past, but not without a similar scare, and they again suggested their future should be brighter. They returned to the top four with five goals.
“It was a brilliant win,” said coach Brendan Rodgers.
At the heart of it, inevitably, was the irrepressible, irresistible Suarez. “He has shown in his time at Liverpool that he is near unplayable,” Rodgers said.
Keenly contested as Liverpool’s battle for a top-four finish is, he is the runaway leader in the Golden Boot race. A brace took his tally to 22 league goals, as many as Stoke have managed between them.
That statistic may suggest a defensive team, but Stoke attacked incessantly. So did Liverpool. As neither defended with any great confidence or competence, it made for an all-action affair.
It was one with, frankly, too many subplots. This was Liverpool’s first win in a league game at Stoke since 1984, when they were the reigning European champions.
It was an unfortunate afternoon for Stoke skipper Ryan Shawcross, who contributed to Liverpool’s first two goals.
It threatened to be a day when Liverpool’s past returned to haunt them, as parity was restored by two of their cast-offs.
There were curiosities, such as Liverpool scoring with a route-one goal, and controversy, with the award of the penalty for their third goal.
Factor in the reunion of Suarez and substitute Daniel Sturridge, who duly combined for two goals, and most things that could happen did.
A theme from swift start to frantic finale was the influence of Raheem Sterling. He chipped a pass into the path of Aly Cissokho for the opener, even if the Frenchman’s thunderbolt took a sizeable deflection off Shawcross to wrong-foot goalkeeper Jack Butland.
The centre-back applied another telling touch for the second. Martin Skrtel punted the ball forward, Marc Wilson headed it back in Butland’s direction and, pursued by the persistent Suarez, Shawcross misplaced his pass.
The Uruguayan nipped in and rolled the ball into the unguarded net.
“For 38 minutes it was the perfect away performance,” Rodgers said.
Then Liverpool’s defensive difficulties combined with Stoke’s spirit as a comeback was forged.
The unmarked Crouch, who spent three years at Anfield, headed in Marko Arnautovic’s cross. Then Charlie Adam, who had an unhappy year on Merseyside, strode forward purposefully and struck a rocket of a shot that flew through Skrtel’s legs on its way into the top corner.
The lead was first lost and then regained. Excellent Sterling intercepted an attempted pass from Wilson and darted into the box. He went down over the defender’s challenge and Gerrard coolly converted the penalty. “If you get it you are happy,” said Rodgers, accepting Stoke were aggrieved.
Enter Sturridge, appearing for the first time since November. The understanding with Suarez was rekindled instantly.
The Englishman played the pass when the Uruguayan doubled his tally. The favour was returned for Liverpool’s fifth goal, scored at the second attempt by Sturridge. “To come here and get five goals and be that inventive and creative was fantastic,” said Rodgers.
Yet Stoke scored three. They mounted an onslaught and, though Simon Mignolet had made one superb save from Jonathan Walters, he undid his good work by letting a gentler effort to slip through. Liverpool were slipshod at one end. But, superb at the other, they prevailed anyway.
• Stoke Terrible day for centre-backs Wilson and Shawcross. Crouch and co posed a threat. Yet the scoreline is worrying. 6/10
• Liverpool There are goals galore in this team, but they need to tighten up at the back. 7/10
• Man of the match:
Luis Suarez (Liverpool) Scored two, made one and continues to power Liverpool towards the Uefa Champions League.