Stoke recovered from an early set back to record an excellent 3-1 win over Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium on Wednesday.
In an engaging contest, there were three goals in the opening 15 minutes as Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool the lead from the penalty spot, before goals from Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones put Stoke in front. Despite plenty of possession from the visitors, it was Walters who grabbed a vital second after the break.
With Stoke having the Premier League’s best defensive record, a two-goal deficit was always going to be a difficult one for Liverpool to overcome. And so it proved as Stoke moved above Liverpool in the table on the back of an efficient and effective hard-working performance supplemented by the excellent Walters and Jones in attack that the Reds struggled to handle.
Stoke had conceded just three goals at home coming into the contest and thus there was a sense of shock as their defense was caught out with just over 30 seconds of the match gone. A Simple log ball over the top saw Luis Suarez get the wrong side of Ryan Shawcross cutting in from the right and as the towering defender struggled to get back at his man he tugged him back to concede a clear penalty.
Gerrard made no mistake from the spot as he tucked the ball low into the corner with Asmir Begovic committed the other way.
Inside five minutes the match was again all square as the hosts struck through a trademark Stoke goal. Jones challenged with Daniel Agger to flick on a long ball down field and the Dane’s head actually took the ball into the path of Walters, who profited from Martin Skrtel’s slip and took a touch to compose himself and then placed the ball past Reina from 12 yards.
Stoke wasted no time in taking the lead. This time Jones did get his head to the ball as the former Sunderland striker got in between Gerrard and Agger from Glenn Whelan’s near-post corner and directed a header into the corner.
Liverpool had their opportunities to pull level before the break, but first Jonjo Shelvey failed to control a chipped Lucas pass when through on goal and then Gerrard fired wide from the edge of the box after Stewart Downing’s pull back.
Stoke too continued to threaten and Pepe Reina had to be alert to tip over Matthew Etherington rasping drive.
The match was an intriguing battle, particularly in the opening period, not only between Stoke’s direct approach and Liverpool’s short-passing game but also because Tony Pulis and a passionate home crowd had the Potters pressing Liverpool mercilessly all over the pitch. Liverpool’s task was to pass around the swarm of red and white shirts and to their credit Liverpool gave a good account of themselves in a well-fought first 45 minutes.
The second half started in a similar fashion and Suarez, always a danger with his clever movement and skill in the box came desperately close to drawing his side level. Half-time substitute Raheem Sterling produced an instant injection of pace down the left to get to the byline and find Suarez at the near post but the club’s top scorer could only strike the outside of the post with his shot over Begovic.
The near miss looked even more costly just moments later as Stoke extended their advantage in the 49th minute. It was another goal straight out of Stoke’s playbook as this time Jones flicked the ball onto Walters from a long throw into the area. There was plenty to admire about the finish with Walters chesting the ball neatly into his path and then hooking a volley past the despairing dive of Reina.
With a two-goal cushion Stoke gradually began dropping back and focusing on maintaining their advantage. For all Liverpool’s control of the ball, the visitors never really looked like getting back into the match as their inconsistent series of results continued.