Johnson (og) 12'
Phew. Excellent, if direct, first half. Terrifying, nerve-shredding second. This team doesn't do anything the easy way.
Despite Wolves running at defenders for the first five to ten minutes, snuffed out by Enrique in open play and Carroll on set pieces, Liverpool settled with another early strike. This one had more than an air of fortune – Adam shrugging off O'Hara with a shoulder feint before firing from distance, redirected into the net by Roger Johnson – but Liverpool's due that air of fortune. It'd be a rare ray of luck shining on the home side. Thankfully, they didn't need it.
From there, as against Sunderland, Exeter, Bolton, and Brighton, Liverpool should have soon extended the gap. The Suarez and Carroll finally showed signs of its promising promise, aided by Downing and Enrique's charges at right back Stearman. Carroll headed straight at Hennessey from Downing's cross. Then the massive's striker's clever cross just eluded an on-rushing Suarez. Then the Uruguayan's first time shot from Downing's cutback just swerved wide. Liverpool, content to play on the counter-attack more than in previous matches, added to ever-present jitters, but the direct style led to opportunities as defenders, specifically Enrique and Skrtel, soaked up pressure.
But unlike in all those previous matches, Liverpool finally notched a second before the interval, the first time they've scored twice in the first half in this young season. Enrique's long throughball found an onside Suarez: rushing on goal, Suarez checked back twice trying to carve out space, allowing defenders to retreat. No matter. Somehow, the tricky Uruguayan still found the room to beat Hennessey at the near post with yet another indescribable display of skill. He does things others can't even contemplate. Sometimes it leads to frustrating nothingness. Sometimes it leads to that jaw-shattering brilliance. He nearly added to that tally in injury time, picking up possession after Downing's low cross ricocheted to his feet, beating two defenders but toe-poking just wide.
To his credit, McCarthy realized the errors of his ways at half-time and reorganized, replacing midfielder Edwards with striker Fletcher and removing poor, whipped, booked Stearman with teenager Doherty. Having been thrashed 3-0 at their own ground the last time Wolves were bold enough to play 4-4-2 against Liverpool, McCarthy was understandably hesitant to repeat that error. Indiscretion immediately proved the better part of valor as Fletcher took less than a minute to pull one back; lucky to retain possession after a ricochet from Enrique's tackle, Hunt burst into the box and centered for an open Fletcher, blasting into the roof of the net from close range.
Liverpool had chances to immediately restore the two-goal advantage, but found themselves deserted by previous mistress Lady Luck. In a three-minute span, Hennessey somehow saved Suarez's shot after palming straight to the striker, Carroll somehow only found the back post after Enrique's brilliant cross, and Downing somehow hit the crossbar on the break, again saved by the Welsh keeper. Liverpool were prevented goals by the frame thrice on Wednesday, twice today. The league really should check the width of the opposition's posts prior to kickoff. That and it's always, always better to be lucky than good.
Having survived that flurry as well as the first half, Wolves were buoyant, camped in Liverpool's petrified half. Aside from Carragher and Skrtel barely scrambling a goalmouth ball away in the 56th and O'Hara's long blast over four minutes later, the away side weren't racking up chances, but Liverpool's frailty and nerves are news to absolutely no one.
Kelly, frequently one-on-one with Jarvis as Henderson had arguably his worst game of the season, invisible with Liverpool out of possession, was under the most pressure. It was little surprise to see the home side settle once Kuyt replaced the struggling midfielder in the 72nd. Honestly, I thought it led to more disconnect the few times Liverpool attacked, with Suarez and the Dutchman trying their usual flicks and tricks but not coming off with the Uruguayan clearly tiring, but Kuyt certainly settled the defense. And it led to another spate of Liverpool chances: Lucas placed a long-range low shot wide, Suarez's cutback after brilliant trademark byline run was just deflected out of Carroll's reach, and the live-wire striker misdirected a header he had no right reaching.
Nonetheless, it remained impossible to feel safe watching this team retain a one goal. Gerrard joined the fray with ten to play – Dalglish understandably hesitant to throw his returning captain – and soon created a typical effort, heading into space from Carroll's knockdown but shooting over, the type of goal he's scored time and time again for the club. Carroll should have sealed it in the last minute of injury time, but tried too hard to dance into space, the final whistle coming with Wolves' last-ditch tackle.
It would have been lovely to maintain the first half momentum, finally stringing two excellent halves together as well as maybe keeping a clean sheet for a change, but Wolves' fierce resistance under McCarthy made that impossible. That Liverpool were able to hold on despite 45 massively frightening minutes is just as meaningful, hopefully cementing the side's confidence in its own abilities.
It continues to be impossible to do Suarez justice, while his link-up with Carroll was much-improved. We saw the giant Geordie playing to potential in the first half: ever dangerous, ever frightening defenders, dropping deep, and showing his ambidexterity and passing ability. Caught flat-footed more than once, there's obviously room for improvement, but other than getting on the score-sheet, it was the performance he needed. Just as impressive were Lucas' powers of recovery – I'm amazed he showed few ill effects from Sunday and Wednesday's exertions – as well as Skrtel and Enrique's defense, regardless of the unlucky goal. The Spanish left-back was also excellent up and down the touchline, rightfully credited with the assist for the crucial second.
Needed result is needed result, with two wins on the trot. The building blocks continue to be stacked slowly but increasingly securely. The gradual process rolls on.
Now, form, style, grace, class, and loving thy neighbor will be undoubtedly thrown out the window with next week's Merseyside derby. Today's second half fight should be perfect practice for that perpetual battle of attrition.