Goals from Daniel Agger and Luis Suarez were enough for the Reds to begin the New Year with a win over Hull City at Anfield.
After an even start during which Liverpool struggled to create chances, Daniel Agger headed them in front from a corner 9 minutes from the break. Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho had good chances before Luis Suarez doubled their advantage with an inch-perfect free kick.
Liverpool made just 2 changes from the side that fell to defeat at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, with Rodgers limited by a length injury list. Iago Aspas came in for the injured Joe Allen, resulting in a change of formation, with Henderson dropping back to partner Lucas in a deeper midfield role. Aly Cissokho took the place of Mamadou Sakho (hamstring), meaning a defensive re-shuffle that saw Agger return to his favoured position of centre-back. Steven Gerrard took his place on the substitutes bench, with Rodgers choosing not to rush him back from injury.
Hull meanwhile stuck with the same side that ruthlessly dismantled Fulham 6-0 at the KC Stadium last weekend.
In the early stages of the game Liverpool’s performance was relatively subdued and they struggled to create many opportunities for themselves despite dominating possession.
The first sighting of goal for the Reds came 15 minutes in, but Luis Suarez’ audacious chip from outside the area missed the far side of McGregor’s goal comfortably. Just 2 minutes later, Liverpool thought they had taken the lead. Coutinho whipped in a free kick from the right wing, but the officials correctly ruled out Suarez’ header for offside.
Not long afterwards Raheem Sterling had a good chance to make it 2-0 after a well-weighted through ball from Suarez. The winger latched onto the striker’s pass but lacked the composure needed to finish the chance, hitting his shot straight at McGregor.
From then on Liverpool continued to enjoy a large share of possession and began to find their rhythm, creating several chances but lacking the finishing touch in front of goal.
In the 35th minute, David Meyler put in a strong challenge on Suarez. The midfielder won the ball cleanly, but then caught the Uruguayan’s leg just above the ankle on the followthrough.
Suarez and Liverpool may with hindsight thank the referee for not stopping play, as it was from the resulting corner that they finally found their breakthrough. Philippe Coutinho again delivered a quality ball into the box, which was met by the head of Daniel Agger for the Dane’s first goal of the season.
Suarez became visibly frustrated during the first half, with his displeasure perhaps justifiably appearing to centre around some of the tackles that he was on the receiving end of. His frustration culminated in him being booked 7 minutes from half time for a foul, despite replays showing that he didn’t make contact with the Hull player.
With only 3 first half minutes remaining, Liverpool had yet another good chance to score their second. Alex Bruce went through Luis Suarez, but the referee waved play on and the ball fell to Jordan Henderson, but he was unable to find the net from inside the penalty area, placing his shot just wide of the far post.
Just 4 minutes into the second half, the hosts finally added to their tally. Luis Suarez was fouled by Curtis Davies not far outside the area, and stepped up to take the resulting free kick. The Uruguayan expertly placed the ball into the near corner for his twentieth goal of the season, having played just 15 games.
Steve Bruce tried to change things, making all 3 of his available substations just shy of 60 minutes. He brought on Danny Graham, Matty Fryatt and George Boyd, but they struggled to make any real impact on what was to be a disappointing day for the Tigers.
Iago Aspas has found it tough to adapt to the pace of the Premier League since arriving from Spanish side Celta Vigo over the summer, and was withdrawn in on 61 minutes to be replaced by Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool captain made his first appearance since the 7th of December, entering the action to warm cheers from the home fans.
Coutinho was heavily involved throughout, and forced McGregor into a save on 73 minutes when he connected sweetly with the ball 25 yards out. Later he stunned the Hull players with a mazey run, taking the ball past several players, before again being denied by McGregor.
Hull enjoyed pressure late on but couldn’t find a goal, and Liverpool ran out comfortable winners. More pleasing for Brendan Rodgers will be a clean sheet for only the second time in their last 9 games. He also saw his side prevent the visitors from having a single shot on target, and continue an impressive home record that has seen them lose only once at Anfield so far this season.
Interestingly, despite criticism of Agger in recent weeks for perceived weakness in the air, 5 of their 6 clean sheets this campaign have come with him in the side. With Sakho possibly facing considerable time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, now could be Agger’s chance to regain a place in the starting line up. On the basis of today’s performance, he has certainly proved his worth as a key part of Rodgers’ team. The 29-year-old made 13 clearances, 2 blocks, and completed 90% of his passes. More importantly, he silenced his critics, winning all 5 of his aerial duels including the one that enabled him to score.
Overall Liverpool deserved the win. They initially struggled to create and lacked a cutting edge in front of goal, but enjoyed two thirds of the possession and did enough in the end to see off Hull. The result leaves Liverpool in 4th position after Everton were held to a draw away at Stoke, while Hull remain 10th and 6 points clear of the relegation zone. Despite winning just twice in their last 10 games, the Tigers remain out of danger for now thanks largely to the inconsistent form of the teams below them over recent weeks.