Luis Suarez pulled Liverpool from the brink of Carling Cup elimination and instead turned it in the direction of Wembley Stadium. His pair of second half goals overturned Stoke City's lead and put the Reds into the quarterfinals of the competition.
The Suarez double encapsulated an entirely pulsating game. Kenwyne Jones put Stoke City in front by heading past Pepe Reina to close out the first half. Suarez's heroics gave the Reds a rare victory at the fortress known as Brittania Stadium.
Too much of this contest appeared to fit the frustrating storyline of Liverpool's 2011-12 season. It controlled play and created numerous chances, only for finishing to betray them at the worst possible moments. If not for Suarez and a moment of inspiration, this contest could easily have gone according to script.
Manager Kenny Dalglish crafted a special solution to the problem of Stoke's collection of tall and burly players. His back four consisted of fit-again Daniel Agger and Martin Kelly playing as fullbacks. Towering central defender Sebastian Coates paired with captain Jamie Carragher to counter the inevitable aerial threats Stoke would pose.
The rest of the team, Andy Carroll aside, consisted of small, agile players capable of keeping the ball on the ground and making darting runs forward. The strategy worked to devastating effect for much of the first half. The Reds were composed and intelligent, baiting their adventurous hosts forward only to punish them with speedy counterattacks.
To say the Reds should have lead by halftime is an understatement. They created three would-be goals in the first 15 minutes, one of which was the product of the flowing movements of a trio of South Americans (Suarez, Lucas and Maxi).
The Reds were in complete control of the game when Jonathan Walters capitalized on Coates' nonchalance near the touchline. He dispossessed the young Uruguayan and crossed to Jones in the Liverpool area. He made no mistake with his header and sent the stunned visitors into the locker room down by a goal.
Some supporters may have been expecting Liverpool to revert to form when Suarez stepped forward in the 54th minute. After all, it was only a month ago that Liverpool fell at Stoke under the same circumstances.
The Uruguayan was himself guilty of first-half wastefulness, but his first goal banished those memories to a far off place. He took a long pass on the left corner of the area, put a touch through the legs of unfortunate defender Ryan Shotton and impossibly curled his shot passed the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.
The goal could be a seminal moment for the club in that it takes it from one psychological point to a higher one. The Reds responded to the goal by withstanding Stoke's best spell of the game. The Potters increased their tempo, requiring Liverpool to respond in kind.
The looming prospect of extra-time and a possible penalty shootout was an ominous one for the Reds. The crowd at the Brittania has carried the Potters to victory in the past, and it was Suarez's headed goal in the 84th minute that sealed his team's first win there in over 11 years.
Jordan Henderson sent a long cross with deadly accuracy into the area, where the unmarked Suarez was waiting. All he had to do was hit the target and he did just that.
Liverpool must wait for Saturday's draw to learn its quarterfinal opponent, but should revel its latest fight back. Recent results led some to believe the team did not have enough mental strength to overcome adversity.
Coates' recovery from his error -– he was commanding in the second half –- combined with Henderson's boundless energy, Lucas' intelligence and the class of Suarez saw the Reds past Stoke. They can do worse than carry that spirit into Saturday's league game against West Brom.
Dalglish was beaming with pride after the 2-1 victory.
"Well you are the ones who are supposed to have the qualifications in English." He said when asked to describe Suarez's opener. "You've got better words than me."
"We've got our reward." He added. "We are in the hat for the next round. We can now get ourselves dusted down for another difficult game at West Brom. But certainly it's better to be in the competition than out of it. We always try to be respectful to the competition and I think Stoke were too, that was two strong teams out on the pitch tonight."
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