Glen Johnson's late goal ended Liverpool's four-match Barclays Premier League winless run as he ensured a dramatic 1-0 win over Stoke City.
Brendan Rodgers' men had not won since October but Johnson was the hero as he bravely headed home with five minutes remaining on Saturday. Rickie Lambert's looping header crashed back off the crossbar, with Johnson stooping to nod home the winner at the Kop to spark delirious celebrations inside Anfield.
A nervy end to the game ensued when referee Craig Pawson added seven minutes of stoppage time after Johnson had sustained a head injury while scoring, but Liverpool held on thanks to a stunning save from goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who brilliantly tipped a wonderful Bojan Krkic volley over the bar.
After defeat by Crystal Palace last weekend, Rodgers left captain Steven Gerrard on the bench while keeping faith with Mignolet, who had made an error in the draw with Ludogorets in midweek.
While neither side offered too much offensively in the first half, Liverpool looked more dangerous after the break and threatened through Raheem Sterling's trickery and a Joe Allen chance the Welshman could have done better with. Just when it looked as though more points would slip through Liverpool's grasp, Johnson came to the rescue with a winner the hosts' second-half showing deserved.
Sterling was Liverpool's main threat early on as his dangerous delivery from the left failed to find Lambert, while Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel were able to deal with the limited initial threat posed by Bojan, Jonathan Walters and Mame-Biram Diouf.
With Stoke shorn of the injured Victor Moses, Hughes saw Steven Sidwell limp off to be replaced by Glenn Whelan, and the substitute was quickly among the action. A foul on stand-in Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson allowed Lambert, who had scored in his last two matches, a sight on goal, but his free-kick sailed way over to cap a low-key half an hour for the hosts.
Liverpool's Jose Enrique, who had been brought in at left-back, curled another inviting cross that went unanswered, before Philippe Coutinho's jinking run threatened an opening, only to be crowded out as Stoke got to the break on level terms.
Whelan was withdrawn at half-time for former Liverpool man Charlie Adam and the Scot almost handed his former employers a golden opportunity when he lost possession cheaply. Henderson shot wide six minutes after the break as Liverpool enjoyed their best spell of the match, although Bojan offered a reminder of Stoke's threat before the hour, with the Spaniard striking Mignolet's left post after cutting in from the left.
The chances continued to flow as Sterling shot wide before Lucas Leiva and Lambert had efforts kept out by Asmir Begovic and Allen blazed over from inside the area.
Exactly 16 years after making his Liverpool debut as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers, Gerrard was introduced with 15 minutes remaining. Playing in a more advanced role Gerrard immediately brought a coolness to Liverpool's attacking play and he watched Johnson break Stoke's resistance.
There was more drama to come when Bojan forced Mignolet into action with a stunning volley, but Liverpool held on for a much-needed three points.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "I thought the players were absolutely incredible. The organisation was very strong and what they had to cope with they coped with very well. We created chances in the game and as it went on I thought the goal was coming. I thought we fully deserved it and to keep a clean sheet against a very good side was pleasing as well."
"Glen Johnson shows great courage and bravery to stick his head in there for the goal. He's had a few stitches in his head but he has got his goal and a very important win for us. We encourage the full-backs at the right time to go forward and he got his reward."
"They have got some quality players and you need that bit of luck. As I say, we deserved to win."
Stoke manager Mark Hughes: "We are disappointed to lose the game at the end like that. On balance of play I don't think anyone really deserved to win. We certainly didn't feel we deserved to lose. For long periods in the game we were in the ascendancy. We just got undone by a long ball into the box. Rickie Lambert has made it his own and a Liverpool player was the first to react.
"I was really pleased with Bojan Krkic, who was the most accomplished player on pitch today. The disappointment from our point of view is we can't keep a clean sheet at the moment and that is holding us back. We had a performance that merited something today, probably not the three points.
"The game became more open in second half, maybe because we became encouraged that we could get something from the game."
|06 Dec 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|21 Dec 2014||v Arsenal (H)|
|14 Dec 2014||v Man Utd (A)|
|02 Dec 2014||v Leicester (A)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Burnley (A)|
|29 Dec 2014||v Swansea (H)|