Liverpool proved they can win games the hard way against Hull City at Anfield on New Years’ Day.
Returning to winning ways after two disappointing defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea over the Christmas period, Liverpool started 2014 with a 2-0 victory over Hull City that demonstrated that they can grind out wins and pick up points the hard way when necessary. With local rivals Everton also dropping points away to Stoke City, the win moved Liverpool back into the top four at the expense of Roberto Martinez’s men.
Despite their remarkable 6-0 victory over Rene Meulensteen’s Fulham on Saturday, the visitors didn’t travel to Anfield intending to play a more expansive brand of football, but rather parked the proverbial bus in order to frustrate their hosts. In particular, they targeted Luis Suarez, who was granted relatively little protection from nasty challenges by referee Robert Madley.
Nevertheless, Liverpool had sufficient grit to secure the result thanks to a first half header from Agger and a piece of magic from Luis Suarez at the start of the second half.
Injuries forced Brendan Rodgers to make several changes to the starting line-up. Cissokho came in at left back as Agger reverted to centre back to cover for Sakho, while Henderson dropped back into Allen’s position next to Lucas and Aspas was handed a start behind sole striker Suarez.
The defensive changes appeared effective, as a clean sheet was kept, Agger opened the scoring and the attack-minded Cissokho put in a decent display. In midfield, Henderson’s creativity was slightly stifled in a more withdrawn role, while Aspas failed to produce anything particularly noteworthy, although that is hardly surprising considering his evident lack of match fitness after spending so much of the season warming the bench.
A tepid start to the match was almost ended on 19 minutes, as Suarez superbly headed Coutinho’s free kick into the net from close range, but frustratingly the number seven was flagged offside. It was a very close but ultimately correct call by the linesman.
|Liverpool were denied an opener by a correct offside decision this time|
Sterling then went close when he latched onto Suarez’s header and fired at goal, but Hull keeper Allan McGregor was equal to the youngster’s effort and made a good save.
The breakthrough finally came eight minutes before the break when Agger rose highest to head home Coutinho’s right wing corner and, after the well-timed opener, the floodgates almost opened as Henderson and Coutinho could, and perhaps should, have added to the Reds’ advantage.
|Back in the team and on the scoresheet. Things are looking up for Agger|
First, Henderson advanced well from a deep position to reach Aspas’ lay off and run into a great position on the edge of the box. Unfortunately, his shot went inches wide of the post when he really should have made it 2-0. Then, on the stroke of half time, Henderson picked out his colleague Coutinho, only for the Brazilian to strike the ball inches wide of the post in a similarly agonising fashion to Henderson.
Thankfully, Liverpool didn’t have to wait long after the interval to double their lead and prevent a slender one-goal advantage producing a nervy second 45 minutes. Five minutes after the restart Suarez was fouled once again, but he responded in the perfect way, picking himself up and curling a world-class free kick into the top left hand corner from 25 yards out.
|Suarez scored his customary world-class goal|
With Luis Suarez in the team, free kicks in the vicinity of the goal are almost as good as spot kicks for the Reds at the moment. The Uruguayan’s strike yesterday was his 20th League goal of the season, and he became the first Liverpool player to score 20 League goals in successive seasons since the great Robbie Fowler achieved the feat in the 94/95 and 95/96 seasons.
On the hour mark, Steve Bruce made a triple substitution in an attempt to breathe some attacking life into his Hull side, while Steven Gerrard made his return from injury as he replaced Aspas. The skipper looked lively and his presence raised Henderson’s game as well. Worryingly, though, Rodgers also had to replace Johnson with Toure, probably due to the England international picking up an injury, which is the last thing Liverpool need right now.
The rest of the second half was fairly uneventful. However, those who left early to beat the traffic missed arguably the moment of the match in injury time. Picking the ball up in his own half, Philippe Coutinho proceeded to delightfully slalom past numerous Hull players, taking on the Hull team single-handedly but ultimately being thwarted by McGregor at the final hurdle as his shot was saved.
It was almost the perfect way to conclude not only the match, but also the Reds’ Christmas and New Year period.
After the highs of victories over Spurs and Cardiff and the lows of arguably undeserved defeats at City and Chelsea, it was good to end the hectic festive fixture list with a hard-fought but relatively routine home win.
Let’s hope we enjoy plenty more of those in 2014.
Happy New Year!