Zoltán Gera has endured a frustrating 12 months after the Hungary international returned for a second stint at West Bromwich Albion last summer, making just three appearances in an injury-hit campaign. However, all the anguish of a debilitating knee injury was cast aside in the 43rd minute, when he fired West Brom into the lead in stunning fashion at The Hawthorns. James Morrison’s corner was only cleared to Gera on the edge of Pepe Reina’s area, and the 33-year-old controlled the ball with his chest, before unleashing a powerful half-volley past Liverpool’s Spanish goalkeeper. It was Gera’s 22nd Premier League strike for the Baggies.
Steve Clarke’s Premier League debut as West Brom boss was a resounding success. Clarke left Liverpool earlier this summer after Kenny Dalglish was sacked by the club’s owners following a disappointing campaign. Clarke has earned an impressive reputation following coaching spells at Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle United and West Ham United – his foray into management will test his ability to step up to the biggest challenge. If Saturday’s evidence is anything to go by, Clarke could be set for a fruitful reign at The Hawthorns. Gera’s fabulous opener gave West Brom a first-half lead, before Peter Odemwingie scored from the spot to extend the home side’s advantage, with Republic of Ireland striker Shane Long even afforded the luxury of missing a penalty kick. Clarke introduced loan signing Romelu Lukaku with 15 minutes left, and the Belgian rose above Liverpool’s back four to add gloss to the scoreline.
The Reds dominated the possession stakes in the first half but were unable to find the crucial breakthrough. Sound familiar? During a promising early spell, Brendan Rodgers’ side already showcased the Northern Irishman’s positive impact, with short and snappy passing which probed at West Brom’s defence. In particular, Fabio Borini and Luis Suárez showed a glimmer of promise suggesting a strike partnership could flourish between the pair over the coming months. Of course, Joe Allen is well drilled when it comes to Rodgers’ systems, and Steven Gerrard’s technical ability is unquestioned. The weak link on Saturday was Stewart Downing, who hindered his side’s chances of rescuing a point from a disappointing performance. The 27-year-old was shipped out to the right wing, but the naturally left-footed midfielder struggled to make any impact, and when he did have the chance to deliver an early cross, his execution was poor. It is one area which Rodgers must strengthen before the transfer window closes, perhaps a move for Manchester City’s Adam Johnson or Bologna’s Gastón Ramírez could be on the cards.
Liverpool were the architects of their own demise at the Hawthorns as Rodgers’ side were alarmingly reckless in possession, resulting in two spot-kicks. Gerrard’s wayward pass was intercepted, and Long burst past Daniel Agger before being shoved to the ground by the Denmark international. Phil Dowd was left with little option but to dismiss Agger and hand Long the chance to give West Brom a 2-0 lead – but the striker’s tame penalty was collected by Reina. However, the visitors failed to take advantage of Long’s generosity, and moments later, Clarke’s side earned their second penalty in a frenetic 10-minute spell. Martin Skrtel was caught dawdling on the ball in his own area. Long nipped in to steal possession, before the centre-half fouled the Republic of Ireland international. This time Odemwingie assumed the responsibility and tucked a venomous effort into the bottom left corner. A miserable afternoon was rounded off when shocking marking by Liverpool’s defence allowed substitute Lukaku to head West Brom’s third.
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