Liverpool beat Stoke 1-0 to take the advantage in their Capital One Cup semi-final, but three players suffered hamstring injuries.
Jordon Ibe scored the game’s only goal at the Britannia Stadium, controlling and finishing past Jack Butland after a sublime pass from Joe Allen (or was it a shot?).
The Reds will take an advantage to Anfield in the second leg on January 26, but the sight of three separate players suffering hamstring injuries provide a sour note on a successful evening.
Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren were forced off with their injuries in the first half, while Kolo Toure played the final three minutes of stoppage time despite clearly struggling with a similar knock.
Stoke were lakclustre throughout the evening but improved in the second half, and could have had a penalty after Glenn Whelan clashed with Alberto Moreno in the area.
The Reds held on to secure a crucial win in the first leg of the semi-final however, and will take an advantage to Anfield in the second leg on January 26.
An angry Jurgen Klopp demanded his players give more after a lacklustre 2-0 defeat at West Ham on Saturday and they duly obliged by putting their bodies on the line – at considerable expense.
They lost playmaker Coutinho and defender Lovren to hamstring injuries inside 35 minutes and their only fit centre-back – Mamadou Sakho missed the game with a minor knee problem – Toure gingerly limped off at full-time holding the back of his thigh.
The only upside of those injuries was the early introduction of Ibe, who injected pace down the left and ultimately provided the only goal.
Liverpool’s current tally of 22 goals in 20 league matches is the lowest in their history and their starting line-up, with Christian Benteke dropped, had just nine to their credit this season – Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic started with seven to himself.
Klopp’s call for a response after a woeful weekend display was heeded from the off with Roberto Firmino, playing as a nominal number nine instead of Benteke, testing Butland after just 36 seconds.
It was virtually one-way traffic in the opening half-hour as Stoke’s footballing front four of Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Arnautovic hardly got a kick and even when they did Bojan completely fluffed his shot when the unmarked Shaqiri cut a low corner back to him.
But just as they appeared to be losing their momentum to injuroes, Liverpool struck at the opportune moment.
Joe Allen appeared to have mis-hit a shot from Adam Lallana’s 37th-minute cross but on second inspection the Wales midfielder had opened up his body shape to divert the ball on to Ibe who fired home at the far post.
Arnautovic headed wide before Simon Mignolet saved from former team-mate Glen Johnson at a corner and the half-time introduction of forward Jon Walters for midfielder Geoff Cameron gave Liverpool’s makeshift central defensive pair of Toure and midfielder Lucas Leiva much more to think about.
Moreno’s tackle on Whelan could have resulted in a penalty – as could the Stoke midfielder’s challenge on Allen at the other end – before Firmino almost inadvertently made the match safe when Butland’s blasted clearance rebounded into the goalkeeper’s hands and fortunately not over his head while Stoke’s greatest threat came from substitute Joselu’s deflected shot which Mignolet tipped over.
Walters dragged a shot wide with the last kick of the match but Stoke are far from out of the tie as they head to Anfield knowing that is where Liverpool are often more vulnerable.