STOKE CITY 1 (Walters 44)
LIVERPOOL 2 (Coutinho 70, Firmino 72)
STOKE CITY’S frustrating run of form continued on Saturday afternoon as Liverpool came from behind to inflict a fourth successive Premier League defeat upon Mark Hughes’ men.
Republic of Ireland international Jonathan Walters sent the hosts into the half-time interval with a one goal lead after heading home his seventh goal in 13 appearances against the Merseysiders following good work from the fit-again Xherdan Shaqiri.
That lead should have been doubled after the break when Charlie Adam saw his point-blank strike somehow saved by Simon Mignolet, before the game dramatically turned in Liverpool’s favour in the space of two minutes.
Firstly Brazilian international Philippe Coutinho capitalised on some hesitancy in the Potters 18-yard box to drill home an equaliser, before compatriot Roberto Firmino got in behind the City backline and lashed a thumping half volley into the roof of the net.
Yet still there was further drama when Mignolet produced his second world class save of the afternoon to deny Saido Berahino, who looked certain to open his account for the Club from five-yards following his January arrival.
Prior to kick-off Hughes made three changes to his line-up in a bid to revive his side’s fortunes, with Swiss star Shaqiri, Walters and former Anfield favourite Glen Johnson all earning recalls to the starting eleven.
For Jurgen Klopp, he was without the services of key midfield pair Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, whilst the likes of Coutinho, Firmino and Daniel Sturridge all started on the bench after a bout of illness hit the camp in the build-up to the fixture.
That meant spots in the side for Academy pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and the highly-rated frontman, Ben Woodburn.
From the offset there was a real sense of urgency within the City ranks to bounce back from Tuesday’s undeserved defeat at Turf Moor, and it was absolutely no surprise that they took a deserved lead into the break with them thanks to Walters’ near post header.
The only disappointment was that the lead wasn’t greater, with Shaqiri having an early effort chalked off for breaking behind the Reds defence slightly too early, whilst Arnautovic, the architect of disallowed effort, will feel aggrieved not to have doe slightly better with the two opportunities that fell his way in a relatively one sided first 45 minutes.
After the break though it was a different story as Klopp responded to his side’s disappointing outing by replacing youngsters Alexander-Arnold and Woodburn with the more experienced and potent Coutinho and Firmino.
That said, had Charlie Adam managed to hit the back of the net rather than Simon Mignolet’s trailing leg from four-yards in the 48th minute then the outcome of the game could have been entirely different.
The Liverpool number one’s incredible save sparked life into the Reds, and they very nearly pegged the Potters back on several occasions with Lee Grant having to be at his best twice to thwart the impressive Coutinho, before Dejan Lovren rattled the woodwork after leaping highest to meet a corner.
In the space of 120 seconds however, the game turned on its head - and Stoke were left flabbergasted!
Firstly, a ball into the penalty area was only half cleared, thus allowing Coutinho the time and space to plant an accurate drive into the bottom left hand corner of the net, before fellow substitute Firmino beat the offside trap and thumped home a spectacular winner for the visitors moments later.
The scenes of sheer joy inside the away area of the stadium very nearly turned to despair however when the tireless Saido Berahino was presented with a glorious opportunity to break his duck for the Club, only for Mignolet to somehow clamber across his goalline and save block the ball on the line.
That moment pretty much summed up the afternoon for the hosts - so near, yet so far!
On the back of three previous defeats against Chelsea, Leicester and Burnley, it is imperative that the Potters bounce back to winning ways against in-form Hull City next weekend if they are to keep alive their hopes of a fourth successive top half finish under Hughes.