Downing fires Liverpool through to semis
Published 19/03/2012 | 09:20
Liverpool 2 Stoke City 1: There is a field of daffodils on Stanley Park and, during the walk past it toward the stadium, a Scouse voice called out: "Bloody hell, it's Mother's Day; they should all have gone by now."
The old wit remains and so does another Liverpool tradition that Kenny Dalglish would recognise from his first stint as manager: the pursuit of silverware.
Dalglish may never succeed completely in dragging Liverpool back to where they were when he left them but, should he deliver two trophies, his first full season back can only count as a triumph, whatever Liverpool's final league position.
Should Everton overcome Sunderland, there will be another throwback, the two halves of Merseyside meeting at Wembley as they did in 1989, a month after the agonies of Hillsborough. Whoever they face, Liverpool will ask to play their semi-final on Saturday, 14 April, since they have never played on the anniversary of the disaster. "We will not be playing on the 15th," Dalglish said. "The FA and Uefa have always been very supportive and we have never played on the 15 April before."
Liverpool were drawn as the 'home' team for the semi-final, as they have been in every round of this competition and they dealt with Manchester United and Stoke as efficiently as they pushed aside Oldham and Brighton.
Once Stewart Downing seized on an accidental lay-back from Steven Gerrard, ran at the centre of the Stoke defence and lashed his shot past Thomas Sorensen, the outcome was seldom in question.
As with all of Dalglish's British signings, many have wondered whether Liverpool will ever see value for money from a player for whom they paid £19m. Gareth Southgate, Downing's manager at Middlesbrough, pointed out that, like many flair players, the winger's self-confidence is fragile.
"Your first year at Liverpool is sometimes a difficult one to get yourself through," Dalglish said. "But Stewart is a really good player with a good turn of pace and a good left foot as you saw out there. He was man of the match in the Carling Cup final and has done us proud here."
This was Stoke's third successive FA Cup quarter-final and the club had subsidised the coaches that thundered up from the Potteries but their last league win at Anfield came in 1959 and only fleetingly did they mount any threat to that hoodoo.
They were a goal down when their goal came, predictably perhaps, from a corner, albeit one that should not have been given since the final touch before the ball went out of play came from a flick of Ryan Shawcross's head.
A blow became a shining bruise when Peter Crouch headed home the corner, Dalglish arguing vehemently that his goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, had been impeded by Ryan Shotton. Nevertheless, Andy Carroll, who now that Fernando Torres has found a way to goal will be under more scrutiny than usual, made an especially feeble attempt to mark the Stoke centre-forward, who scored with ease.
The same might have been said when Jon Walters burst through late in the first half without requiring Reina to make a save. His manager, Tony Pulis, thought this was the least he might have done and Stoke were to be given nothing like the same opportunity again.
The number of chances Luis Suarez requires to score is held up as perhaps the forward's one great technical weakness, although he found the net on his debut against Stoke with virtually his first shot and did the same again here.
It capped a beautifully liquid move, struck first time on the edge of the box after Suarez played a one-two with Maxi Rodriguez. There were three Stoke defenders who might have closed him down but they each moved fractionally late and the shot rocketed into the corner of Sorensen's net beneath the Kop.
Liverpool's great fear has been that Suarez would leave at the end of the season in search of Champions League football. It probably contributed to their disastrously one-eyed defence of him during the Patrice Evra affair, although he has indicated in an interview for a Uruguayan website that he will now be more than happy to stay.
Liverpool: REINA 6/10; KELLY 6; CARRAGHER 6; SKRTEL 6; ENRIQUE 6; DOWNING 7; GERRARD 7; SPEARING 7; RODRIGUEZ 6; SUAREZ 7; CARROLL 5
Stoke: SORENSEN 6; WILSON 7; HUTH 6; SHAWCROSS 6; WILKINSON 6; ETHERINGTON 5; WHELAN 6; WHITEHEAD 6; SHOTTON 5; CROUCH 7; WALTERS 5
Substitutions: Liverpool Kuyt 5 (Rodriguez, 61), Coates (Kelly, 89), Henderson (Suarez, 89). Stoke Pennant 5 (Shot-ton, 61), Jerome (Etherington, 72), Delap (Whitehead, 74).
Booked: Liverpool Kelly, Reina. Stoke Whelan, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Wilson.
Scorers. Liverpool: Suarez 23, Downing 57. Stoke: Crouch 26
Man of the match Spearing. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Liverpool 56% Stoke 44%.
Attempts on target: Liverpool 8 Stoke 4.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire). Attendance 43,962.