Liverpool 2-1 Stoke: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:34 18/03/12 By David Anderson
Whatever it is with Kenny Dalglish and Wembley, Liverpool should find a way to bottle it.
The Reds manager is going back to the home of English football for the 23rd time after his side overcame a gritty but distinctly limited Stoke side to reach the FA Cup semi-final – where they could meet neighbours Everton.
It is also the 23rd occasion the Anfield club have reached the last four of this competition, and there can be no doubting the magic of Dalglish when you consider the identity of their match-winner.
Before yesterday, Stewart Downing had found the net just once in his Liverpool career, against Oldham. Yet if there was any crisis of confidence after finding himself the target of fans’ ire at times this season, his finish hardly betrayed it.
The winger produced a stunning strike to add the perfect flourish to what was a dominant performance against disappointing opponents.
Dalglish has found himself criticised at times for supporting his summer signings even when they have under-performed, as Downing has done. But he was vindicated with the England international’s fine strike.
The winner came on 57 minutes, when Downing cut in from the right flank to take a clever return from skipper Steven Gerrard and lash a left-foot shot into the corner with all the instinct of a born goalscorer – not someone who has found the net once in 34 games.
It could be a huge goal, not just for Downing’s Anfield career, but for Liverpool and their manager too, because their season was in danger of crawling to an unedifying halt with their poor league form.
While the top four remains his ultimate target, FA Cup glory will certainly give him breathing space in that aim. And to Liverpool’s credit, there was little doubt they would progress here, despite the tight scoreline.
They were always in control, thanks in part to Stoke’s lack of quality in their passing going forward. Even at the end when the home side decided to defend their lead, the inability of Tony Pulis’ side to produce even a basic level of skill in their delivery meant there was little danger.
Stoke had their heroes, with the likes of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth defiant, and the impressive Jonathan Walters, Dean Whitehead and Glenn Whelan industrious, but they can play so much better than this.
Liverpool didn’t reach the heights of their midweek romp against Everton, but they did more than enough to win, thanks to the quality of Gerrard in the middle and Luis Suarez up front.
South American has many critics, but he also has something almost
unique around the penalty area. His goal to open the scoring on 23
minutes was a case
There seemed little on as he progressed towards goal, but a swift exchange with Maxi Rodriguez and a shimmy to his right, and the Uruguayan was curling the ball quite magnificently into the far corner past the bemused Thomas Sorensen.
Stoke did rally impressively in the first half, and they capitalised on another mistake from the unfortunate Pepe Reina to draw level before the break. The Reds’ Spanish keeper allowed a Matthew Etherington corner to be met by Peter Crouch just three yards from his goal, which doesn’t exactly qualify as comman-ding your six-yard box.
It was Crouch’s first goal in 10 appearances against Liverpool since he left the club, and also Stoke’s first-ever FA Cup goal against the Reds in seven attempts, but the visitors couldn’t hang on to that lifeline.
When Downing restored Liverpool’s lead, you expected Pulis’ team to throw the kitchen sink at it, but they could never build any momentum because of their woeful passing.
In the end, perhaps the biggest worry Dalglish faced about another visit to Wembley as the game drifted into stoppage time was what suit to wear. But then he has quite a choice, because he must have some collection by now.