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Defender Daniel Agger's first goal of the season ensured Liverpool returned to winning ways at home to Southampton but they made hard work of the victory. The Denmark defender powered home a header just before half-time, only his fifth in 133 Barclays Premier League appearances, after a host of chances had gone begging. In doing so he helped Liverpool to only their third home win of the season and back-to-back league wins at Anfield for the first time since September 2011.
Liverpool had 14 shots in a one-sided first half although Southampton could easily have had a goal with Rickie Lambert's long-range shooting threatening to catch out Jose Reina. The Southampton striker sent an early swerving effort just wide before, in added time, his 35-yard drive had Reina scrambling back to turn the ball around a post. But those two chances book-ended what was a procession of missed opportunities for the dominant hosts.
The restoration of Lucas Leiva to the side as defensive midfield linchpin after a three-month absence with a thigh injury transformed the dynamic almost immediately. With Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen freed to play higher up the pitch in a 4-1-4-1 formation most of the action was concentrated in their final third.
Jonjo Shelvey, also back in the side, bobbled straight at goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, Glen Johnson flicked Luis Suarez's pass across the face of goal, Gerrard had a shot charged down and then fired wide after a quickly taken free-kick to Suarez. Gazzaniga denied Shelvey and Suarez, before the Uruguay forward latched on to Reina's long kick and beat the goalkeeper, only for Maya Yoshida to clear the ball for a corner. When Shelvey smashed an angled shot past the goalkeeper but back off the inside of the far post it appeared luck was not on their side.
It took a double-dose of Uruguayan intervention to help break the deadlock two minutes before the break. Saints' South American summer signing Gaston Ramirez fouled compatriot Suarez on the edge of the penalty area and although the Liverpool striker crashed his free-kick on to the crossbar it rebounded to Johnson. His cross into the penalty area was met by Agger, who planted a header into the top corner from 10 yards.
Southampton, having undertaken damage-limitation in the first half, came out positively after the break and Liverpool struggled to reassert their dominance. After the first-half deluge it took until midway through the second period to carve out a good opportunity.
Jose Enrique, marauding from left-back, exchanged passes with Suarez on the edge of the area but his toe-poke at goal was deflected wide by Luke Shaw. The Spaniard also saw his drilled half-volley from the left of the area batted away by Gazzaniga.
Suarez tried to punch in Gerrard's cross, earning the side's leading scorer a fifth booking, ruling him out of next Sunday's trip to West Ham. Suarez flashed a left-footed shot just wide in added time but in the end Agger's goal proved just enough to ensure they crept closer to the top four, which manager Brendan Rodgers insists remains a possibility.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "The game should have been put to bed well before it was. We were outstanding the first half. The tempo, we shared the ball, everyone was passing and moving, the creativity [was good] in the team throughout the game and it was just getting that little bit of luck with the final ball.
"No matter how much you dominate the game, if it's still only 1-0 going into the final 10 minutes it can always offer you a bit of challenge where you have to defend. There's no question we should have been out of sight, but the most important thing is it was a terrific performance and another win at Anfield. We continue with another three points and moving up the league."
Southampton manager Nigel Adkins: “We are disappointed in respect of we haven't got anything from the game. We have come away from home in a good run of form of late but Liverpool's movement was very good today and we couldn't get a grip of the football.
"If we could have got to half-time at 0-0 that would have been pleasing but a free header in the penalty area has given them a 1-0 lead. We had to adapt ourselves a little bit. We have defended a lot deeper and looked to counter-attack. Credit to the players because we managed to hang in there and the last 10-15 minutes we went a lot more direct."
|09 Dec 2012||v West Ham (A)|
|15 Dec 2012||v Aston Villa (H)|
|22 Dec 2012||v Fulham (H)|
|26 Dec 2012||v Stoke (A)|
|30 Dec 2012||v QPR (A)|
|02 Jan 2013||v Sunderland (H)|