Liverpool beat Southampton 2-0 on Sunday in wet and windy conditions at St. Mary’s Stadium. The victory was far from Liverpool’s prettiest of 2014-15 but it was among the most significant, as it gave the Reds three more points in the Premier League standings and consigned the Saints to the emptiest of home losses. The sixth-placed Reds now have 45 points after 26 games. They are firmly in the chase for a top-four finish and a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Philippe Coutinho’s stunning third-minute goal ultimately stood as the game-winner. Coutinho’s speculative, long-range strike looked like it might herald a vintage attacking performance from Liverpool, but it immediately became obvious that this would be no swashbuckling show.
Referee Kevin Friend already had denied Southampton’s first-minute penalty appeal when Joe Allen brought down Filip Djuricic inside Liverpool’s box one minute after Coutinho’s goal. Home fans were livid over both decisions. But the non-calls also seemed to strengthen Liverpool’s resolve in the high-pressure meeting between Champions League hopefuls.
Southampton seized the initiative early on and held it for the better part of 70 minutes. The Saints probably would have scored at least once, but the quality of its final ball was absent on the rain-soaked turf. They created few genuine scoring chances, and their most threatening moments in the first half ended in controversy.
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet raced off his goal line to intercept a long pass before Southampton’s Eljero Elia could run onto it in the 44th minute. Mignolet batted the ball away, but replays suggest he was outside of the penalty area when he made contact. Home fans were crying out for a red card, but Friend ruled that Mignolet was inside his area when he touched it and allowed play to continue.
Liverpool escaped disaster less than a minute later when the ball hit Emre Can’s arm inside the penalty area. Friend ruled no penalty again.
Liverpool dug in amid the controversy, which bordered on chaos. The Reds defended with resilience and tried to hit Southampton on the counter-attack. It didn’t work, but the Reds had the security of the one-goal lead, and it only was a matter of time before Southampton slipped up.
The moment came after 73 minutes when a botched clearance from Southampton fullback Matt Targett landed at the feet of Raheem Sterling, who shot through defenders’ legs, off the hand of goalkeeper Fraser Forster into the goal. Sterling’s sixth league goal of the season (10th in all competitions) confirmed Sunday as a charmed one for Liverpool.
The conditions and Southampton’s intense pressure prevented Liverpool from playing with its usual fluency, but the Reds overcame their technical deficiency with impressive an impressive physical, tactical and psychological display.
The Reds now are unbeaten in their last 10 games. They have put the fall rot behind them, having taken more points from their last nine games (23) than they did from the first 17 (22). Their ugly win over Southampton merely was the latest evidence that their revival and pursuit of targets remain on track.
Thumbnail photo via Tim Ireland/The Associated Press
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