Gera scorcher burns original script
West Bromwich Albion 3 Liverpool 0: West Brom give Clarke perfect start while his former side has work to do with new manager
This was not the script – Steve Clarke must not have received it. This was to be Brendan Rodgers announcing himself as the new messiah at Liverpool with his fresh brand of football to revolutionise the club.
After a Daniel Agger red card, two penalties and a bunch of missed opportunities, travelling fans were left gesticulating in anguish at the end. It may as well have been Kenny in the dugout.
It had taken the buoyant visiting contingent just seven minutes to proclaim that there is "only one" of their manager. Hopefully, for Rodgers' sake, the supporters' adoration continues. The slump in Premier League performance and position over the last few years would not be fixable on just the one afternoon at the Hawthorns. Nor would a crushing defeat bludgeon hope. This is a "project" and one which is not defined in a 90 minutes of slight misfortune and poor finishing.
"I thought the scoreline and the two [penalty] decisions were harsh," Rodgers said. "We looked like we were going to get the first goal. When we were chasing the game it became difficult."
He added: "It is a marathon," pointing towards work-in-progress. "I've heard a lot said about patience, but we have to win games. It was a bad day at the office. I thought they were showing signs that they coped well with the ideas."
That said, the Swansea-like approach looked like offering an impressive new dawn earlier in the piece, suggesting that encouraging times may not be too far away for a squad with undeniable ability scorching through its core. Joe Allen provided depth to the midfield three and with games should supplement Lucas well in a team insistent on keeping the ball.
Luis Suarez stung the palms of Ben Foster and should have done far better when picked out by Glen Johnson four yards out, but his header flew over a gaping goal. The striker was to go on and miss several more.
Although always a lingering threat, Suarez didn't produce the real standout moment of quality in an engaging opening fixture. That accolade was reserved solely for Zoltan Gera. The winger, back in the Albion side after a horrific run of injuries, loitered on the edge of the Liverpool box hoping to pick up a second ball from a corner. That he did: the first touch to tee himself up and the second a vicious 25-yard half-volley which flew beyond the despairing Pepe Reina. It was the first time Gera has netted in the league since November 2010, and he celebrated like it too. The kit sponsors, Zoopla, have promised to give £1,000 to charity for every goal this season. For Gera's stunner, they possibly ought to double that offer.
Clarke, the new man in charge of the Baggies, saw his side follow instructions to the letter in a winning blend of bustling midfield play and purity in possession – following on from his predecessor Roy Hodgson. They have recruited quietly and with minimal fuss – an attitude encapsulated by the operation of a new holding spoiler in Claudio Yacob, who did an excellent marshalling job on Steven Gerrard.
Yacob did such a job on Gerrard that the England captain decided that, approaching the hour-mark, it was time to drop deep and orchestrate proceedings. In doing so, he gave away cheap possession, allowing the hosts to break with James Morrison, clipping a ball through for Shane Long to chase. When he was in the clear, Agger tripped him, received his marching orders and the Irishman stepped up to double the lead. Not so. His sauntered run-up gave Reina the edge and he comfortably saved.
But Phil Dowd was to give another spot kick moments later. Martin Skrtel miscontrolled a routine ball inside his own box, and with Long creeping behind the defender, his clumsy trip – unfortunate, but ultimately a foul – meant another penalty. There was no stopping Peter Odemwingie taking this. He strode up and blasted the kick past the goalkeeper.
And as West Bromwich counter-attacked marvellously, a third came with 12 minutes to go. From a corner, Liam Ridgewell was found all alone and he picked out the loanee Romelu Lukaku at the back post to thunder a header home.
You could perhaps forgive Clarke for being particularly pleased at the victory, given who it came against, the club who sacked him post-Dalglish, but he said: "The manner of my departure is not an issue, it does not give me any extra satisfaction. I have no axe to grind whatsoever with Liverpool.
"I shaped the team up the way I wanted us to play. You saw the strength of the squad I've got today. I've got some good options."
This was West Bromwich's first win on a top flight opening day since 1978, but for Liverpool it was a disastrously familiar tale. They had looked good in spells but in the end Rogers' side fell victim to a team systematically knowing how to beat them. Clarke went for a suit over a tracksuit on his managerial debut; the way in which his team overcame the reds suggests that he means business.
West Bromwich Albion (4-2-3-1): Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Mulumbu; Morrison (Brunt, 81), Gera (Fortuné, 68), Odemwingie; Long (Lukaku, 68). Subs not used: Myhill, El Ghanassy, Jara, Dawson.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Agger Johnson; Lucas (Cole, 68; Carroll, 79) Allen, Gerrard; Downing (Carragher, 60), Borini, Suarez. Subs not used: Jones, Adam, Henderson, Shelvey.
Referee: P Dowd
Man of the match: Yacob (West Bromwich)
Match rating: 8/10
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