Luis Suárez’s 22nd-minute opener was the one bit of quality in an otherwise dour first half as both sides resorted to long, hopeful balls to their respective target men Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch. The Uruguayan played a quick one-two with fellow South American Maxi Rodríguez, managing to allude two Stoke City challenges, before curling a delicious right-footed strike past Thomas Sorensen to put the home side ahead. The 24-year-old, returning to his best form following an eight-game ban at the start of the year, was Liverpool’s stand-out performer, and he nearly snatched his second of the afternoon when he flicked Stewart Downing’s free-kick just past Sorensen’s left post.
Liverpool have been struck by the curse of the ex-striker on several occasions over the past decade, including Nicolas Anelka’s memorable winner for Manchester City in 2003 which contributed to the Reds’ failure to finish fourth. Peter Crouch kept up the tradition on Sunday, levelling for the visitors in controversial fashion. Referee Kevin Friend incorrectly awarded Stoke a corner when the ball had deflected wide off Ryan Shawcross, and from the resulting set-piece, Crouch escaped the attentions of his marker Andy Carroll to head past Pepe Reina. It marked the 31-year-old’s 10th strike of the season – four more than Liverpool’s Carroll has scored.
Liverpool’s £20m summer signing Stewart Downing has struggled to make an impact on the left wing since swapping Villa Park for Merseyside. But the England international produced his best Reds performance to date in the club’s Carling Cup final victory over Cardiff City in February, earning the man of the match award. His only goal prior to Sunday’s clash came in the third round against Oldham Athletic, and he was in good form against Stoke. With Rodríguez hugging Downing’s favoured left midfield position, the former Middlesbrough star was deployed on the right wing to good effect, cutting in-field, which eventually led to the winner after inadvertently combining with Gerrard. Former Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier favoured using former Liverpool winger Harry Kewell on the right to pose a goal threat on his favoured left foot, and perhaps using Downing in a similar role could prove beneficial in the long run for the Reds.
Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has dropped no hints as to the contenders for his Euro 2012 squad this summer. Stoke’s tenacious striker Jonathan Walters scored the second goal in Ireland’s 4-0 demolition of Estonia in the play-offs and was rightly named man of the match. The 28-year-old earned his fifth Irish cap in the 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic at the Aviva Stadium in February and is continuing to stake his claim for a place in the squad. He offers a physical presence up front, is strong in the air, and works tirelessly closing down opposition defenders – all qualities required for Trapattoni’s defensive style of play.
Jay Spearing has undoubtedly benefited from Lucas Leiva’s season-ending cruciate ligament injury against Chelsea back in November. It has provided Spearing with the chance to fill the defensive midfield void, and the 23-year-old has done an admirable job. Following in the footsteps of fellow local boys Jamie Carragher and Gerrard, Spearing is one of Liverpool’s most unglamorous stars but his constant endeavour has earned him many admirers. He has made 16 appearances this term in what will be described as his breakthrough season.
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news