16 April 2017

Liverpool 1-0 West Brom

Firmino 45+1'

Liverpool were getting Pulis'd until Liverpool Pulis'd Pulis.

That'll do just fine.

Any trip to West Brom and any match against a Tony Pulis side – especially away from home – is going to be a frustrating match. There will be 11 opposition players in their own half behind the ball for long stretches. Chances will be few and far between and mostly not very good. You will have way too much possession but still have to cope with threatening long balls and set plays.

And all that happened. 45 minutes of meh and fouls and back passes and hoofs and lightly sprinkled with half-chances untaken for both sides. Firmino shooting wide, Coutinho volleying over and shooting over; Chadli unable to connect at the back post from a deep free kick, Robson-Kanu tamely shooting at Mignolet. Lovren, Lucas, and Matip seemingly always on the ball; Firmino, Coutinho, and Origi not on the ball nearly enough.

Then a set play. An unnecessary foul. Not the most threatening cross in, but a dangerous flick-on. A second ball finding an open goal-scorer sneaking behind his marker to make the headed break-through with just seconds left in the first half.

Imagine my surprise when this all leads to Liverpool scoring, not Liverpool conceding. Also, my delight. Schadenfreude is a hell of a drug.

It wasn't incredibly surprising to see more of the same in the second half until it was entirely unfeasible for West Brom to do so. 25 or so more minutes of near-constant Liverpool possession with only a couple of chance and none taken. Origi blasting wide from what's become his spot on the left edge of the box. Milner getting his volley all wrong after a delightful move from Wijnaldum and Firmino. Origi with the ball in the net but Firmino rightfully ruled offside in the build-up.

But then three West Brom changes and then Liverpool increasingly pushed back, and an unsurprising spell of opposition pressure but also without a ton of chances. As in Liverpool's 2-1 win over West Brom at Anfield in October, as in recent 2-1 wins against Burnley and at Stoke. And as in the recent 2-2 against Bournemouth, where Bournemouth got a late equalizer from next to nothing.

Thankfully, today was at Stoke, not against Bournemouth. And like against Stoke, the credit goes to Simon Mignolet. West Brom had their one moment in the 80th minute. And West Brom didn't take it, as Salomon Rondon held up and turned Matip before feeding Matty Phillips, but the clear-cut chance denied by a brilliant kick-save.

The final 10 minutes were incredibly stupid, but not in the worst way. Too much West Brom possession. Too many West Brom set plays. Too much Liverpool hoofing, hoping, and resetting. But despite our constant, never-ending, yes-we're-traumatized fears, Liverpool held on well enough, with the end stages highlighted by a perfectly-in-character cameo from Alberto Moreno, a chance at an empty net on the break after another successfully defended corner pushed wide with three Liverpool players screaming at him from better positions. Never stop doing you, Alberto. Wait, no. Do stop. Stop right now.

It wasn't exceptionally impressive, but all 11 Liverpool starters worked hard, with Can and Firmino most noteworthy. The former had one of his all-action, dominating midfield performances that we need to see more consistently, the latter put in a shift so thorough I'm amazed there were rumors he might not be fit enough to play, not to mention contributing the lone goal. Mignolet, Matip, Lovren, and Lucas all did what they needed to in defense, whether in covering, in aerial duels, in punching crosses and in another late game-saving save.

That's now two consecutive one-goal victories away at sides who've often frustrated and punished Liverpool. Against the type of sides and types of matches which have so often foiled Liverpool this season. Liverpool hadn't won at the Hawthornes in the league since April 2012. Liverpool hadn't ever won an away league match against a Tony Pulis side. It's Liverpool's first 1-0 league win of 2017, and only the third of the campaign after 1-0 Everton (a) and 1-0 Manchester City (h). Liverpool now reclaim third place, two points ahead of City, and extend the gap over fifth to nine points, if only due to games in hand.

Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do, at both ends of the pitch. At this point of the season, that's all that matters.

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