x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Daniel Agger uses his head to give Liverpool and Rodgers a lift

Defender grabs the only goal to defeat Southampton.

Daniel Agger of Liverpool is congratulated by his teammates.
Daniel Agger of Liverpool is congratulated by his teammates.

LIVERPOOL // Brendan Rodgers wanted the rest of his players to provide a reminder that Liverpool are not a one-man team. As that one man incurred a ban, it was just as well they did.

Often as Rodgers praises Luis Suarez, there is little doubt it frustrates when others' efforts are not acknowledged. But as long as they did not chip in with crucial goals, that image was going to persist.

The Liverpool manager had gone public with his desire for anyone apart from the Uruguayan to contribute more. They duly did with Daniel Agger delivering the winner and Glen Johnson producing the game's outstanding performance. With two defenders providing the most telling touches in attack, it was a way of compensating for Liverpool's lack of regular scorers.

For the first time in 15 months, they have recorded back-to-back home wins.

"A terrific performance and another win at Anfield," Rodgers said. He had stated upon his appointment that he wanted to make their historic home a fortress and, if it cannot be described as such just yet, his team are developing a habit of defeating inferior opposition on their own turf.

They next challenge is to overcome the excellent and Southampton, despite a fine recent run, were not that. Suarez's influence in the goal was indirect. After his free kick bounced back off the bar, the jinking Johnson provided a cross and Agger a forceful header.

"A free header in the penalty area has given them a 1-0 lead," rued Nigel Adkins, the Southampton manager. Yet if Agger's fine finish proved that Suarez is not indispensable, it is just as well. The sole fit senior striker at Anfield will be suspended for Sunday's trip to West Ham United.

A booking away from a ban for weeks, Suarez crossed the disciplinary threshold in both needless and reprehensible fashion, trying to punch in a Steven Gerrard cross.

"I didn't see it but I don't think it was cheating," Rodgers said, seeming to contradict himself. Suarez's absence, though, has been the worst-case scenario since the summer transfer window slammed shut without Liverpool securing striking reinforcements. "That was always going to be the risk," added the manager philosophically.

At least, while one player is being ruled out, another returned. Lucas Leiva's comeback, after three months on the sidelines with a thigh strain, brought the loudest pre-match cheer and a sense of balance.

"I thought he was excellent," Rodgers added. "He offers the team great stability."

Gerrard and Joe Allen had fewer defensive duties with the unselfish anchorman sweeping up behind them. Secure at the back, Liverpool could press forward. They did, persistently and purposefully.

As their goal showed, defenders served as the best method of attack. A series of incursions deep into Southampton territory by Johnson could have resulted in the right-back scoring - he skewed a shot wide - before he served as Agger's supplier.

The other danger, predictably enough, was Suarez. Maya Yoshida denied him a goal when he latched on to Pepe Reina's punt forward and beat goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.

While Liverpool will need to convert someone into a striker to deputise for the Uruguayan on Sunday, they have been playing with ersatz wingers for weeks. Jonjo Shelvey was the latest played out of position and he almost marked his reinvention with a goal. A beautifully struck shot beat Gazzaniga but rebounded back off the far post.

There was no second reprieve when Suarez struck wood, Agger scoring seconds later but the familiar lament was that Liverpool should have scored more goals.

"The game should have been put to bed well before it was," Rodgers added. "I thought we were outstanding in the first half, everyone's passing and moving and the creativity."

Victory could have been sealed when Jose Enrique swapped passes with Suarez and shot just wide. The Uruguayan, too, was a culprit, before his desperation to score brought a recourse to illegal methods. Having won without a Suarez goal, their next challenge is to win without Suarez.