A bizarre match at the Britannia Stadium ended up with a controversial Liverpool win. Having managed to claw back an early 2-2 deficit, Stoke City were left furious by an early second-half penalty that proved the pivotal moment as the Reds eventually claimed a 5-3 victory, but the truth is that the hosts were stung by some inept defending and the sheer quality provided by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge -- the points were deserved.
The visitors were given an extraordinary dollop of luck just five minutes in. Raheem Sterling picked out Aly Cissokho steaming in from the wing, and the left back decided to simply hit the ball as hard as possible. His shot was going well wide before Ryan Shawcross fatefully intervened, deflecting the ball past a stranded Jack Butland with his crotch.
Although Stoke responded well, putting some real pressure on their guests as they sought to get back into the match, but Liverpool were looking dangerous whenever they had the ball. Indeed, Philippe Coutinho could have easily doubled the Reds' lead when Sterling picked him out with a smart ball only to send a shot narrowly over. As it turned out, however, the visitors' second ended up being gifted to them by the Potters themselves.
Under pressure from dangerman Suarez, Marc Wilson tried to nod a long-bouncing ball back to his goalkeeper. It didn't quite work, and Butland failed to defuse the situation, leaving Shawcross to make a desperate sliding challenge to clear the ball away. It didn't work, and Suarez was left with an empty net and an easy finish. 2-0 it was.
Stoke were going to need a miracle to get back into the match. And so a miracle arrived. Martin Skrtel was partially to blame for losing the gigantic figure of Peter Crouch inside his own box, but Liverpool could do nothing about the super combination of delivery and finish which followed -- the striker glanced a stupendous cross from Marko Arnautovic just inside the near post to hand the Potters a lifeline.
They weren't finished there, either. Indeed, they'd go into halftime level thanks to a fabulous goal from Charlie Adam. There was more than a touch of farce about the buildup, with both Steven Gerrard and Adam himself falling down as the ball rolled through the middle, but after the midfielder picked himself up, the finish was ferocious, barely giving Simon Mignolet a chance to move before the shot was past him and in the back of the net.
The Potters good run had to come to an end, however, and it was Wilson who opted to terminate it. Having seen Sterling charge down his attempted clearance, the centre back then ran straight into the winger as he embarked upon a futile run. It was a dubious penalty claim, but Antony Taylor made the call immediately. The spot kick was given, and Gerrard was on hand to sweep it past Butland.
Behind again, Stoke had to pour bodies forward. Liverpool were able to exploit that by throwing Sturridge into the mix, and the England star's pace gave the hosts problems immediately. It wasn't long until he got properly involved, playing an excellent reverse path into the path of Suarez, who swept a difficult finish past Butland to reestablish the visitors' two-goal lead.
The match wasn't quite over yet, however. The hosts had shown their ability to batter their way through Liverpool's defence, and Jonathan Walters demonstrated that they were still a threat when he got on the end of Crouch's looping cross, forcing a fine diving stop from Mignolet. Having fired a warning shot, Walters then came good on his promise, seizing upon an Arnautovic pass and sending a scuffed shot just past the goalkeeper.
Were it not for the intervention of Sturridge, we might have been set for a grandstand finish. Instead, he immediately re-killed the game. Suarez turned provider with a far-post delivery which his strike partner met sweetly. Butland responded with a save he had absolutely no right to make, but it wasn't enough -- Sturridge seized upon his own rebound and tucked a curt shot past Wilson, whose presence on the line was by this point merely hypothetical.
There wasn't enough time for Stoke to cause further problems. Crouch hit the post with another header in injury time; Mignolet produced a surprise reaction save to prevent what could have been a Gerrard own goal, but there would be no more scoring. A pulsating tie was over, and Liverpool had reclaimed a spot in the top four.
Stoke City starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Jack Butland; Erik Pieters, Marc Wilson, Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron; Glenn Whelan, Steven Nzonzi (Stephen Ireland 80'); Marko Arnautovic, Charlie Adam, Jonathan Walters; Peter Crouch.
Goals: Crouch 39', Adam 45', Walters 85'.
Liverpool starting lineup (4-3-3): Simon Mignolet; Aly Cissokho, Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson; Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard; Philippe Coutinho , Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling.
Goals: Shawcross og 5', Suarez 32' 71', Gerrard p 51', Sturridge 87'.