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Luis Suarez proves an instant Kop hit

WERE you watching Fernando? That particular chant didn’t rain down from the Anfield stands last night, but it was certainly in everyone’s mind as replacement £22.8m frontman Luis Suarez made a jubilant goal-scoring debut.

If anyone had any doubts how the Reds would cope with life after Torres, this was the definitive answer.

Who needs a sulky £50m striker when Luis Suarez needs just 16 minutes to notch his first strike in a Red shirt?

And with the smiling £35m man Andy Carroll sitting in the stands and raring to go, Liverpool’s striking options suddenly look extremely rosy.

Despite losing their once idolised Spaniard, it is abundantly clear there is life beyond the departed El Nino.

Liverpool have now recorded three consecutive league victories, and all of a sudden the chance of Champions League slot is an outside possibility.

The feelgood factor is definitely back at Anfield, and buoyed by the knowledge they remain a power in English football, able to attract big-money players to the club, the Reds’ stock is visibly on the rise.

This wasn’t a straightforward victory by any means as Stoke proved tough and uncompromising opponents, particularly in the first half.

But once Raul Meireles had smashed home just after the break there was only one winner, and the Suarez clincher was the icing on the cake.

Liverpool move six points behind fifth placed Tottenham and they will look forward to Chelsea and enemy number one Torres on Sunday with relish.

Surprises have been the name of the game since Kenny Dalglish took over at Anfield.

So, it was perhaps true to form that the Scot pulled another rabbit out the hat when the Liverpool team-sheet was unveiled last night.

With right winger Kuyt the only striking option in the line-up, left back Aurelio playing in central midfield, and three central defenders, it didn’t appear an attack-minded line up in a week which has seen forwards dominate the headlines at Anfield.

But who said anything about the need to be conventional?

Dalglish’s selection was vindicated after a battling first 45 minutes saw Liverpool cut loose in a more adventurous second half display.

Luis Suarez was given a place on the bench and fellow new recruit Andy Carroll, sidelined with a thigh injury, was paraded on the pitch before the kick-off and given a rapturous welcome by the crowd.

Liverpool started brightly and they fashioned their first chance when Kyrgiakos, making his first start under Dalglish, glanced a Gerrard corner goalwards which was cleared off the line by former Red Salif Diao.

The Reds had what appeared to be a strong claim for a penalty after the ball bounced up onto Huth’s hand, but referee Anthony Taylor waved away the appeal.

The Liverpool formation appeared hard to fathom, but it soon became apparent that Kelly and Johnson were being employed as marauding full backs, with Meireles and Gerrard providing the support for lone frontman Kuyt.

It didn’t appear to work in the first half hour with the Reds having plenty of possession but doing precious little with it.

The first 35 minutes could only be described as tepid, so much so that the warming up of new £22.8m recruit Suarez prompted the biggest cheer of the night.

That seemed to lift the players on the pitch as almost instantly Martin Kelly sent over a cross which Asmir Begovic saved brilliantly from Glen Johnson’s point-blank header.

It spurred Liverpool on and moments later a Gerrard cross was glanced just wide by Dirk Kuyt as the Reds cranked up the gears.

Liverpool had suddenly remembered how to attack and a combination between the captain and Meireles saw Kuyt scissor kick a bouncing ball over the bar.

Dalglish’s men finished the half the stronger of the two sides, neat interplay between Lucas and Aurelio allowing Kuyt a shot on the turn which Begovic comfortably saved.

But if the first half had been non-descript, the second was an entirely different affair.

Dalglish’s half-time pep talk appeared to do the trick instantly as Liverpool went ahead straight after the break. There was an element of fortune to the goal as Gerrard’s free kick was deflected by Marc Wilson, and as Kyrgiakos prepared to strike, Huth inadvertently teed up Meireles who fired home in what is becoming now trademark fashion.

Stoke were still dangerous however and a raid from Anfield old boy Jermaine Pennant set up Carew who fired a rasping drove just wide.

But the points were eventually sealed when Suarez grabbed his first goal in a Liverpool shirt, just 16 minutes after coming on as substitute.

A Kuyt through ball sent the South American clear and he rounded Begovic with ease before scuffing home, despite Andy Wilkinson’s best efforts to clear.

It was the perfect start for the former Ajax man whose incisive pace seems set to make him a surefire hero on Merseyside.

With Suarez an instant hit with the Kop, it relaxed Liverpool who started to play some vibrant attacking football.

First Shelvey fired over before a vicious dipping Gerrard volley flashed dangerously above Begovic’s crossbar.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis, whose side beat a miserable Liverpool in November at The Britannia Stadium, had predicted before the game his side might not have it so easy this time round, mindful of the new optimism sweeping through Anfield.

“Things will be different this time, but what we have to do is go there and give it our best shot. We know it’s going to be tough.”

His words were dead right.

Welcomingly, Anfield is once again reasserting its reputation as a fortress. The Reds finished the game on a roll, peppering Begovic’s goal with efforts.

Already the memory of Torres seems to be fading fast as there are new Red striking heroes like Suarez to laud. The King is dead, long live the King.

Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio (Luis Suarez, 63), Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Martin Kelly, Martin Skrtel, Jose Raul Meireles (Jonjo Shelvey, 75), Steven Gerrard, Leiva Lucas, Dirk Kuyt

Stoke City Asmir Begovic, Danny Higginbotham, Robert Huth, Abdoulaye Diagne-Faye (Danny Collins, 65), Andy Wilkinson, Marc Wilson (Ricardo Fuller, 66), Salif Diao (Rory Delap, 61), Jermaine Pennant, Dean Whitehead, Jon Walters, John Carew

Referee Taylor, A
Venue Anfield
Attendance 40,254

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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