BOYHOOD Everton fan Jonathan Walters produced a stunning double to sink Liverpool and stretch Stoke City’s unbeaten run to nine matches with a thrilling Boxing Day triumph in front of the television cameras at the Britannia Stadium.
The Republic of Ireland international pounced to cancel out a Steven Gerrard penalty in an eventful start to the match and then volleyed home his second shortly after the break to give the Potters a vital two-goal cushion over the Anfielders.
In between that, Kenwyne Jones, who set up both goals for Walters, helped himself to one with a well-placed close range header as he scored for the second successive home match after he was on target in the recent home draw with Everton.
It was the first time City had scored three goals in a Premier League match for thirteen months since a 3-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers and the win lifted them above Liverpool to eighth position in the table at the halfway point in the season.
The night got off to the worst possible for the Potters as Ryan Shawcross was penalised for pulling back Luis Suarez, but the outcome rarely looked in doubt once Walters and Jones had hit back in quick succession after Gerrard’s penalty.
Pulis made one change to the side that had earned a goalless draw at White Hart Lane with Kightly being brought in to replace Shotton, while Adam was back on the bench after being away on compassionate leave following the death of his father.
No sooner had the game got underway than City found themselves a goal behind as Liverpool were awarded a penalty when Shawcross was caught out by the pace of Suarez and tugged his shirt, resulting the referee pointing to the spot when he went down.
Gerrard stepped forward to take the spot kick and calmly sent Begovic the wrong way as the Potters conceded only their fourth home goal of the campaign.
They were behind for only a couple of minutes as the stadium erupted when Jones flicked the ball to send Walters and he kept his composure, lining up a shot from just inside the box before firing it past a helpless Reina to lock it up at one apiece.
Spurred on by such a swift response, City exerted pressure on the Liverpool defence and tested out their ability to deal with high balls into the box.
With Walters restored to his role alongside Jones, the pair were causing Agger and Skrtel plenty of problems and a second wasn’t long in coming.
City forced a corner on the left hand side and when Whelan delivered to the near post, Jones rose to head it past Reina for his second goal in successive home games, one which he celebrated in customary fashion with a somersault.
In stark contrast to the live televised match on Boxing Day twelve months ago, there was plenty of action at both end in the opening stages.
Liverpool threatened on occasions to hit back, most notably when Lucas threaded a pass through to Shelvey whose control let him down when in on goal and Begovic was relieved to advance off his line to gather the ball quite comfortably in the end.
Midway through the half, City almost grabbed a third when Nzonzi ventured on a burst down the right and squared it to Etherington, who struck his right foot shot sweetly from the edge to the box, but Reina produced an excellent reflex save.
The Potters made headway down the right hand side again moments later as Cameron embarked upon a barnstorming run into the area where his shot was eventually blocked by Agger when the American was sensing glory.
There was a scare for City when Kightly lost his footing at a crucial moment, allowing Downing to burst down the left and drag the ball back to Gerrard on the edge of the area, but he didn’t hit his shot cleanly enough to trouble Begovic.
City’s workrate was glowingly illustrated when they pressed Liverpool back as they tried to pass their way out of defence and it almost resulted in a chance falling to Etherington who headed forward in an attempt to release Walters.
Begovic was then called upon to make a crucial save to preserve City’s lead when Suarez fashioned a chance out of nothing before unleashing a stinging low drive which the ‘keeper got down smartly to keep out at his near post.
City looked a little uneasy at times at the back when Liverpool pressed for an equaliser and Huth sliced the ball behind for a corner when Gerrard whipped a menacing cross in from the right hand side to the edge of the six yard box.
But at the other end, they almost conjured up a third goal when Kightly turned a cross over from a tight angle to the far post where Etherington was unmarked, but he was closed down by Reina who saved his point black range shot.
Liverpool made a tactical change at the interval, sending on Sterling for Suso, and the talented teenager was soon in the action.
He outpaced Cameron with a burst down the left and his cross was met by Suarez whose shot flashed past the near post.
The Potters then gave themselves precious breathing space with a splendidly worked third goal which stemmed from a throw-in.
Once again, Jones provided the flick on and Walters unleashed a stunning volley which Reina could only get a hand on as it flew in.
City then had to maintain their concentration to hold onto the two-goal cushion, which was underlined when Gerrard saw his volley deflected wide of the upright after latching onto a corner delivered by Downing.
Suarez was then cautioned for a foul on Begovic when he caught the ‘keeper with a high challenge as he tried to get his foot to ball into the box, but it was the Uruguayan who came off worst and had to go off for treatment.
With the Potters threatening to catch Liverpool on the break as they produced a number of penetrating bursts down the left, Jones had appeals for a penalty rejected when he went down under a challenge from Gerrard.
City made their first change of the evening when Whitehead was sent on to replace Kightly and his first involvement was to collide with Reina as he dived in to try and get his head to a cross delivered into the box by Etherington.
That was followed by the introduction of Crouch in place of Jones who deservedly left the field to a standing ovation following an outstanding contribution in which he had scored one goal and helped to set up the other two.
As the game moved into the closing stages, Liverpool were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box after Whelan’s foul on Suarez earned him a yellow card, but the Uruguayan striker’s shot cannoned against the wall.
Liverpool kept up the pressure in the hope that they could set up a grandstand finish, but Begovic’s reflexes were equal to curling shot which Gerrard unleashed from 20 yards, the giant Bosnian pushing the ball firmly away.
That was the last chance of a night which had begun with an immediate setback but ended with such a convincing 3-1 victory.