LONDON – Brendan Rodgers was the last off the field at the end, having walked on to salute his players, embracing Simon Mignolet and Jordan Henderson as they walked towards the tunnel. Liverpoolâ€™s manager then turned to wave to the 3,100 travelling fans, who had made it south through the rain and the roadworks to support their reviving team and then sing in praise of Rodgers.
Liverpoolâ€™s victory was rooted in defensive determination, refereeing controversy, a marvellous first-half strike from Philippe Coutinho and a clinical Raheem Sterling finish in the second period. The win lifted Liverpool to sixth, overtaking Tottenham Hotspur, and moving them to within a point of Southampton.
Liverpool were never at their fluid best but there is a resilience to them now, and it is 469 minutes since they last conceded an away goal in the league. Not since Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson were repelling all-comers in 1985 had Liverpool last registered five successive away shut-outs in the league.
The last goal this current Liverpool side let in on the road in the league was on Dec 14 at Old Trafford when Robin van Persie scored with 19 minutes remaining of a 3-0 win. Defeat dropped Liverpool to 10th position, leaving them 10 points behind third-placed Manchester United, and raising questions about Rodgers.
Liverpool are now two points behind the fourth-placed United, three behind Arsenal, who are third, and with Rodgers being feted from all quarters.
A test of Liverpoolâ€™s resurgence arrives when they soon face Manchester City, United and Arsenal; their wing-back system could be overwhelmed out wide in the first and last of those tricky contests. Rodgers is certainly not short of belief in his philosophy, although lacks the defensive qualities to play as a left wing-back. Alberto Moreno provided better balance when replacing Markovic at the break.
They look far more robust than a few months again with Henderson working tirelessly in midfield, breaking up attacks, Martin Skrtel much improved and Mignolet unrecognisable from the nervy keeper of last year. Mignolet has become the cat without the hot tin roof.
Liverpool have also shown they can survive without Steven Gerrard, have a player in Coutinho who can conjure magic out of thin air, and have Daniel Sturridge returning to lend more focus to attack.
Jordon Ibe develops promisingly while Sterling continues to prove he is worth a handsome new contract most times he runs at opponents.
As Rodgers was signalling his appreciation to the Liverpool fans, a vilified figure walked past him. It was the referee, Kevin Friend, enduring more abuse from those Southampton supporters who had stayed on. At half-time, Friend left the field to home fans singing â€œOne-nil to the refereeâ€ and being even more closely man-marked by stewards than usual.
The debate over refereeing standards in the Premier League also continues and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) meeting next weekend in Belfast is particularly well timed. Southampton found Friend to be more foe in Minute 1, Minute 4, Minute 45 to use Jose Mourinhoâ€™s pithy style.
Ronald Koemanâ€™s side were denied what would have been a soft penalty, but certainly giveable, when Emre Can touched the lively Filip Djuricic, a clear penalty when Joe Allen brought down Djuricic before Mignolet could have been dismissed for handling outside the box as the half closed.
Koeman could have been slightly sheepish when debating refereeing standards with the English, having enraged Graham Taylor when escaping punishment for pulling David Platt back in Rotterdam in 1993. The Dutchman was diplomatic about the standard of English refereeing, although making the relevant point that fourth officials could help referees more, and that video technology was important.
Koeman also observed that Friend would have had to send Can off, a difficult call so early in the game and reopening the debate about the so-called â€œtriple punishmentâ€ of penalty, red card and suspension for the one offence. Uefaâ€™s president, Michel Platini, has already called for the end to what he termed the â€œstupid ruleâ€ of â€œtriple punishmentâ€, replacing the red card with a spell in a sin-bin for 10-15 minutes.
Platiniâ€™s proposal is being discussed at this weekendâ€™s IFAB meeting in Belfast when the gameâ€™s law-makers, including the FAâ€™s Greg Dyke, will also consider the case for video technology. Reports from the trials in Koemanâ€™s homeland sound promising. IFAB could certainly peruse evidence from St Maryâ€™s.
Shortly after the start, Djuricic sped down the inside-right channel into the Liverpool area, catching out Can, the left-sided of Rodgersâ€™ three centre-halves. Can placed his hand gently on Djuricicâ€™s shoulder, and the Serbian midfielder on loan from Benfica, fell to the soaken earth. There was definite contact, Djuricic was definitely slowed, but Friend decreed no foul, much to the 23-year-oldâ€™s astonishment.
As Southampton were absorbing the injustice, Liverpool went for the jugular. Markovic was struggling to deal with Southamptonâ€™s right-back, Nathaniel Clyne, but suddenly broke forward, picking out Coutinho, who was 25 yards from goal.
The Brazilian took the ball in his stride, then striking it with power and a touch of swerve, sending it flying high into the net, giving Fraser Forster no chance. It was on a par with his gem against Bolton Wanderers. Coutinho tends not to do many tap-ins.
Southampton fans briefly stopped barracking their old players Adam Lallana and particularly Dejan Lovren to focus again on Friend. After four minutes, Djuricic charged into the box and was tripped by the right leg of the stretching Allen. Any hopes that Djuricic might have harboured of continuing were ended when Lovren arrived to knock him over. The ball fell to Eljero Elia, whose shot was well-saved by Mignolet.
The half finished on another contentious note. Elia raced through, attempting to lift the ball over Mignolet. The ball hit the Liverpool keeper in the chest, bounced up and struck his arm as he leapt through the air outside the box. Koeman threw his arms up in the air in disgust.
With 17 minutes remaining, Liverpool doubled their lead. Morgan Schneiderlin lost the ball in midfield, gifting possession to Moreno. Matt Targett attempted to clear but succeeded only in transferring the ball to Sterling, who shot confidently past Forster. Mignolet then saved Dusan Tadicâ€™s free-kick, but there was little real threat to Southamptonâ€™s attacks and they urgently need Graziano Pelle to rediscover his early-season form. Liverpool, though, march on. – The Telegraph