STOKE CITY ended a historic campaign in absolutely scintillating style on Sunday afternoon by recording their biggest ever Barclays Premier League triumph.
Whilst the eyes of the watching world were fixed on Reds captain Steven Gerrard before kick-off, they were well and truly engrossed on Mark Hughes’ side come the full-time whistle.
A remarkable first-half showing ended with the Potters five goals in front, and yes, you read that correctly. As a consequence, Gerrard’s fanfare was over before it really began; although he did have his moment later in the afternoon.
With nothing to play for other than pride and points, the Potters stunned Brendan Rodgers’ European-chasing side with an opening 45 minute showing that was as good as anything ever seen at this level before.
Mame Diouf, the side’s joint leading goal-scorer along with Jonathan Walters, got the scoring underway with a clinically taken strike from 6-yards, after Simon Miognolet had palmed Charlie Adam’s effort into his path.
The lead was doubled in the 26th minute, and again it was Diouf displaying his prowess in front of goal, hammering a thumping effort home from 20-yards.
The majority of supporters inside the stadium, including the likes of Bojan and Victor Moses, both of whom were present for the final game of the campaign, could hardly believe their eyes as the hosts displayed some of the most breath-taking football ever seen in these parts.
Walters was next to get in on the act, registering his eleventh of the campaign, with a cheeky header over Mignolet after the Belgian stopper had produced a superb point-blank save to thwart his initial strike.
Just as you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse for the despondent visitors, Adam, as he has done on so many occasions in the past, let rip a trademark left-foot strike that flew into the bottom corner of the net.
Stoke supporters were joyous, Liverpool’s less so. In fact, a number had decided that they had seen enough and prematurely departed North Staffordshire and trekked back home to Merseyside.
It was arguably the best decision they could have made, because moments later their side shipped a fifth goal of the afternoon, all of which came in a 23-minute spell.
Player of the Season Steven Nzonzi, often self-critical for his lack of goals, produced a moment of absolute brilliance, beating three men with relative ease before curling an unstoppable effort beyond the reach of Mignolet and into the top right hand corner of the net.
With that, Stoke players strut back into the dressing room for the interval, whilst Liverpool’s flabbergasted eleven trudged past their far from impressed supporters and into the tunnel.
Rodgers had to make changes at the break, and he did just that. The talented youngster Jordan Ibe replaced the lacklustre Alberto Moreno, whilst the evergreen Kolo Toure was brought on to ship things up at the back at the expense of the lacklustre Emre Can.
As to be expected, there was a far brighter start to the half for the visitors, but it was Hughes’ troops who carved open the first real opportunity of the half with Arnautovic being denied a goal by the outstretched leg of Martin Skrtel.
Gerrard, undoubtedly one of the greatest players of his generation, forced Begovic into a smart save down to his left on the hour mark, before he enjoyed one last hurrah in the Premier League with a goal 20 minutes from time.
The former England skipper, who was featuring in his 707th and final game for his boyhood club, raced on to a through ball and displayed the calmness and composure that has served him so well throughout his career; slotting past Begovic.
Hughes introduced former Reds favourite Peter Crouch and Nigerian international Peter Odemwingie from the bench late on, whilst Marc Muniesa unfortunately limped off with a hamstring injury.
In spirit of the game, one that had seen records being broken for the Potters, Crouch then wrapped the afternoon, and the season up, with a trademark header to make it six, and in the process establish himself as the all-time record Premier League headed goal-scorer.
A day to behold, and one that no Stoker City supporter will never forget.
The perfect send off for two Potters legends… Andy Wilkinson and Thomas Sorensen.