STOKE CITY will have to record their first victory at Anfield in over half a century if they are to secure a spot in next month’s showpiece Capital One Cup Final.
The Potters were unable to take advantage of playing the first leg on home soil as Liverpool claimed a 1-0 triumph in North Staffordshire on Tuesday evening.
Jordan Ibe, who was brought on as an early substitute for the injured Philippe Coutinho, needed just 20 minutes to make a telling impact on the encounter.
The highly-rated winger capitalised on a fortuitous ball into his path by Joe Allen and thumped a driving effort past Jack Butland and into the back of the net, seven minutes before the interval.
The goal was no less than the visitors deserved, but they were lucky not to have been pegged back soon after when Glen Johnson’s strike was inadvertently blocked en-route to goal.
Jurgen Klopp’s side had wasted several decent opportunities prior to the break and they could have been made to pay for those as the hosts upped the ante somewhat in the second half.
Mark Hughes’ decision to add Jonathan Walters’ strength at the top of the team culminated in a far more lively second half showing from his side.
The Republic of Ireland international netted from the bench against West Bromwich Albion, in the Premier League three days earlier, and was once more a key instigator in the majority of the home side’s threatening passages of play.
His strength up top gave the Reds rear-guard plenty to ponder and it was he who should have drawn his side level right at the death when a long ball forward fell straight into his path, but he was unable to hit the target from an acute angle with just Simon Mignolet to beat.
That chance came after both Johnson and Bojan had fired long distance efforts wide of the target whilst Xherdan Shaqiri was unlucky not to have picked out the unmarked Marko Arnautovic after skinning Alberto Morenso on the flank.
Whilst the narrow defeat leaves the Potters with plenty to ponder ahead of the return leg on Merseyside in three weeks’ time, Hughes will know that the tie is far from over and will look upon the recent away day triumph at Everton as inspiration.