Liverpool secured their first Premier League win in over a month with goals from Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson enough to beat West Brom 2-1 at Anfield. Struggling badly for form at the start of the season and coming into the game on the back of a Champions League loss at Swiss side Basel in midweek, three points was desperately desired. And, while it was far from straightforward against a West Brom side buoyed by back-to-back league wins and helped to an equalizer from the spot by Saido Berahino after a foul that was outside the box, Brendan Rodgers will be mightily relieved that his team delivered.
The Liverpool manager, who left Mario Balotelli out of the lineup, will also take pleasure from the way another of his new signings came good to open the scoring and his account for the club in impressive fashion. Lallana, along with the rest of Liverpool’s recruits, has not exactly hit the ground running since arriving, but right before halftime he showed some of the ability that persuaded his new employers to splash out £25 million in the summer with a crisp finish after a fine piece of skill and one-two with Henderson.
Before Henderson added a goal of his own after the break, West Brom had got back on level terms to return the tension to Anfield. Dejan Lovren’s foul on Berahino was rash, although clearly a yard outside the penalty area. Still, Berahino sent Simon Mignolet the wrong way to get his sixth goal of the season. But Henderson’s strike, after Sterling appeared to have been brought down in the area, proved crucial and Liverpool did just enough to hang on for a narrow, nervy win that Rodgers will dearly hope can be a springboard for more convincing performances going forward.
That aim will be helped by the fact that, when Liverpool return to action in two weeks’ time, Daniel Sturridge should have fully recovered from a thigh injury. The striker was again forced to watch on from the stands on Saturday. On the bench, having been criticized by his new manager in the buildup to the match, was Balotelli. His replacement, Lambert, may not have the ability, and certainly not the pace of the recent arrival from Milan, but he did display better linkup play and movement. And early on the Liverpool team looked the better for it. It was still far from the fluid, incisive Liverpool team of last season, with the stark difference seen on more than one occasion when the ball was won back in midfield but counter-attacks slowly petered out.
Still, there was an improvement over what has been produced in recent weeks. Had Lambert been more clinical in front of goa,l Liverpool’s lead would have been established sooner. Still looking to get off the mark for his new club, the England international first completely missed his kick from a near-post cross and then, after showing good initial control from a pass over the top of the West Brom defense, saw his shot repelled by Ben Foster. The lively Raheem Sterling set Lambert up for another opportunity five minutes before the interval, but a lack of decisiveness proved his downfall on this occasion.
Liverpool were almost made to pay for that profligacy when their defensive issues were once again exposed. The in-form Berahino was granted a free header six yards out after Dejan Lovren was caught under a cross, but the attempt was mistimed and directed over the crossbar. Then right on the stroke of halftime came a breakthrough that brought considerable relief to those on and off the pitch in red at Anfield. Surrounded by three West Brom players, some superb footwork form Lallana opened up space for a quick interchange with Henderson that allowed him to get in behind the posse of defenders. Once in position, the England midfielder didn’t flinch, striking a left-footed shot across Foster and into the bottom corner.
Having been agonizingly pegged back in last week’s Merseyside derby, the hosts’ advantage this time lasted just 11 minutes into the second half. Berahino looked to receive a pass just outside the box, but was instead met by a desperate lunge for the ball by Lovren. Having blown his whistle, referee Michael Oliver took his time before gesticulating whether it would be a free-kick or penalty and, presumably after consultation with his assistant, pointed to the spot. Replays confirmed it was the wrong decision. There was no reprieve, though, for Liverpool. Berahino, who missed out on being named in the England squad this week, dispatched the ball into the net from 12 yards.
The equalizer reinvigorated Liverpool. Lambert failed to take advantage of another sight of goal when firing over on the turn, but it took just five minutes for the Merseysiders’ advantage to be restored. Sterling looked to have been bundled over by Craig Gardner in the box, but while his teammates appealed, the sprightly forward picked himself up and laid the ball back to Henderson who fired it into the corner.
Balotelli soon came on and put in a lively cameo, setting up Sterling with a chance he should have done better with and forcing a save from Foster. But Liverpool were more concerned late on with simply trying to protect their lead, which, with some understandable anxiety, they just about accomplished.