United Kingdom: Jordan Henderson's fortuitous goal earned Liverpool a 1-0 win at Swansea on Monday as they moved within two points of fourth-placed Manchester United ahead of an eagerly-anticipated showdown against their bitter rivals.
Henderson scored for a third successive Premier League game to make it five successive top-flight victories for Brendan Rodgers' team as their charge for the Champions League continues to gather pace. Yet there was more than a stroke of luck about Henderson's second-half winner after Swansea defender Jordi Amat's attempted clearance ricocheted off the onrushing Liverpool midfielder and looped over goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Liverpool celebrate their goal. Pic/ AFP
That will be of little concern to Liverpool's former Swansea manager Rodgers on what was a happy return to the Liberty Stadium that means his team can leapfrog old foes United should they defeat them at Anfield on Sunday.
They certainly have momentum following what has been a remarkable turnaround in recent months following a sluggish start and that this was a sixth successive away clean sheet for the first time since 1972 merely added gloss. "I thought we were outstanding in the second half. In the first half we were nowhere near the level we expect. We weren't pressing enough, and when we got the ball, we gave it away too cheaply," Rodgers said.
"It doesn't matter what system you play, the attitude and the energy are important. In the second half we went to a diamond formation and started to create problems for them." There was no place for Mario Balotelli in the Liverpool squad due to illness, while Steven Gerrard - available for the first time since February 10 following a hamstring problem - had to settle for coming on as a second-half substitute.
One player who did make the starting line-ups, however, was Swansea forward Bafetimbi Gomis, who was declared fit 12 days after collapsing on the pitch during the loss at Tottenham. The France international showed no signs of any ill-affects from his recent scare and he was denied a 21st-minute opener when he headed Wayne Routledge's cross goalwards only for Martin Skrtel to clear off the line.
- Instinctive effort -
Another typically slick Swans move soon followed with Ki Sung-yueng's raking ball out wide to Neil Taylor controlled superbly by the left-back as he got the better of Emre Can. Taylor fed the ball inside to Gylfi Sigurdsson who, with back to goal, rolled former Swansea star Joe Allen with a sharp turn only to bend his shot beyond the right-angle of the post. The midfielder found that very corner perfectly minutes later with a brilliant instinctive effort which Simon Mignolet, at full stretch, superbly tipped around his post.
The danger was far from averted, though, as Jonjo Shelvey was picked out from a short-corner routine and, connecting cleanly with his first-time strike, he looked set to be celebrating against his former club until his shot inadvertently deflected off Adam Lallana and away for another corner. This was as sharp as the Swans had looked all season - their diamond midfield formation effective in stifling Henderson and Allen's attempts to gain a grip on proceedings.
But the half-time whistle came at the wrong time for Garry Monk's team, halting their momentum. The warning signs were there for the home side when Daniel Sturridge's intelligent reverse pass played Raheem Sterling into space down the Reds' right. His cross was met with a first-time strike from Philippe Coutinho which would have crept inside the near upright but for the fine reflexes of Fabianski, who turned it around the post.
Then, in the 68th minute, the goal Rodgers had been craving came, albeit with a large slice of good fortune. Skrtel's probing ball through the heart of the Swans defence was flicked on by Sturridge into space to leave Amat and Henderson in direct pursuit, yet the sliding Swansea defender's attempted clearance inadvertently struck the Liverpool midfielder and beat the stranded Fabianski. Then Sturridge almost doubled the advantage in the dying moments with a curling effort against the right post.