After Spurs and Manchester United dropped points on Saturday, the former drawing away to Hull and the latter amusingly falling to a 2-1 defeat at Stoke, the Reds had the perfect opportunity to cement their place in the top four and make themselves firm favourites for Champions League qualification.
Although the Baggies are a bit of a bogey side for Liverpool- they did the double over the Merseysiders last season and beat the Reds 3-0 in Brendan Rodgers’ first League game as Liverpool boss- the visitors were expected to claim victory over their struggling hosts and move nine points clear of United and five ahead of Spurs.
All was going to plan when Sturridge scored to secure a first half lead, but a disastrous mistake from Kolo Toure gifted West Brom the equaliser that their second half performance probably warranted and, on the balance of play, a draw was a fair, if frustrating, result.
Liverpool went into the contest with mixed emotions. On the one hand, they were buzzing after beating neighbours Everton 4-0 at Anfield in midweek. At the same time, though, the fiasco surrounding Yevhen Konoplyanka and the club’s ultimate failure to sign the Ukrainian international had significantly dampened the optimism prevailing following the thrashing of the Toffees.
That deflated atmosphere was reflected in the opening stages of the match, as the Sunday lunchtime fixture never really got going until Sturridge broke the deadlock on 24 minutes. Up to that point the Baggies had enjoyed the majority of possession and been in the ascendancy but had created little in the way of goalscoring opportunities.
Liverpool, conversely, clinically took the first chance they had to take the lead, despite starting sluggishly. Coutinho and Sterling teamed up to set up Suarez, whose cross somehow found its way through several Baggies’ bodies and reached Sturridge, who had the simple task of turning the ball home from yards out at the back post.
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For the rest of the first period the Reds had a few opportunities to add to their lead and kill off their opponents. Their failure to take those chances came back to bite them when the Baggies woke up in the second half.
Suarez curled a free kick inches wide of goal, Toure failed to capitalise when presented with a gilt-edged goalscoring opportunity after Coutinho’s corner caused havoc in the box and the Brazilian number ten shot just off target as the away side searched in vain for a decisive second goal that would have extinguished West Brom’s hopes of taking anything from the match.
After the restart, Pepe Mel’s men were much improved and they swiftly set about trying to get a leveller. Chris Brunt shot well off target but then sent a threatening left wing corner into the penalty area, which McAuley headed goalwards, forcing Mignolet to make an impressive one-handed save. The Belgian keeper pulled off another decent save soon after, as he prevented Brunt’s low free kick finding the bottom corner.
At the other end, West Brom’s defence, which had conceded four against local rivals Aston Villa in midweek, was restraining Suarez ably, as the Uruguayan had a rare off-day. The number seven’s only sight of goal came on the hour mark, when Foster blocked his final effort after he’d skilfully created a shooting opportunity for himself.
The game-changing moment came on 67 minutes, when Toure’s error allowed the home side to equalise. Mignolet rolled the ball out to the Ivorian and he wasn’t put under much pressure by the Baggies, but he inexplicably broke the first rule of defending; never send a square pass across your own goal. As a result, former Everton striker Anichebe could intercept the wayward pass and drill beyond the helpless Mignolet to level the score line.
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At the end of the day, Toure shouldn’t be treated as a scapegoat. His error was symptomatic of a generally below-par performance from the whole team, which was particularly disappointing because a win at the Hawthorns on the back of smashing Everton to pieces in midweek would have set the Reds up nicely for the visit of Arsenal next Saturday.
As it is, Liverpool must quickly pick themselves up and prepare to put in a much better display against the Gunners. They cannot afford to repeat this performance many more times if they are to retain their place in the top four.