On the 20th anniversary of his first game in management, Jurgen Klopp finally saw Liverpool stop the rot, thanks to a goal from Curtis Jones and a deflected Roberto Firmino effort, but his team’s hopes of a top-four finish will surely be determined in the treatment room.
At least there were no new injuries for Klopp from a tough visit to Bramall Lane but the manner in which they were forced to toil against the league’s worst team spoke volumes about Liverpool’s current woes but also the fact there is still life in the fallen champions.
Jones struck after 48 minutes to ensure that Liverpool’s calamitous run of six defeats in nine games did not drop to seven in 10, slapping home an unstoppable shot from 12 yards.
The “assist” had been provided by home defender Phil Jagielka who could only clear a dangerous Trent Alexander-Arnold cross directly to the Liverpool midfielder with VAR disproving United claims that the ball had gone out of play.
By the time Firmino added a second, after 64 minutes, with skilful footwork in the area, following a one-two with Sadio Mane and a shot which went in via Kean Bryan, who was credited with the own-goal, the outcome was settled.
But if those millimetres by which Alexander-Arnold kept the ball in play and a deflected second represented a slight stroke of luck for Klopp, it was probably no more than he deserved given his recent star-crossed run.
“Plenty of people have written us off,” said Klopp. “That’s fine. With all the problems we have had we’re still around the exciting places.
“This was about us showing we’re still there. We play Chelsea on Thursday, we have to show it again. We have to win football games, we know that. There’s no way into the Champions League without results. Tonight we got it, we keep going.”
On top of all of Klopp’s other concerns — a patchwork quilt in the centre of defence where Nat Phillips partnered Ozan Kabak; a midfield without Fabinho and Jordan Henderson — here came a goalkeeper crisis.
This week’s passing of Alisson’s father meant the Brazilian number one was unavailable, as was his injured deputy, Irish youngster Caoimhin Kelleher. It meant long-suffering veteran Adrian was handed the start although fears that this might be another horror show by the Spanish keeper were quickly quelled.
Just five minutes had gone when David McGoldrick rose well to meet Ollie Norwood’s free-kick with a point-blank header with Adrian pawed away superbly.
Later in the half, it was Oli McBurnie’s turn to set up McGoldrick for a shot which took a treacherous deflection off the provider and saw Adrian re-adjust and save well with a touch around his post.
And Adrian’s one piece of good fortune was deserved, therefore, when Kabak turned the ball past him on 36 minutes as he tried to deal with Enda Stevens’ through ball, only for McBurnie to be ruled offside.
But it was Adrian’s counterpart Aaron Ramsdale who was by far the busier and in the process of turning in a memorable performance.
A mistake by Ethan Ampadu let in Firmino for the home keeper’s first noteworthy save, with Ramsdale forced to tip over a dangerous Andy Robertson cross from the follow-up.
A poor first touch by Jones allowed Ramsdale to save at his feet before Mo Salah skipped past former Evertonian Jagielka only to be denied by the keeper’s outstretched leg.
Another Ampadu error played the ball directly to Alexander-Arnold whose fierce shot was again saved superbly by Ramsdale who did even better from an 18-yard effort by Pool skipper Georginio Wijnaldum.
But Ramsdale was finally beaten soon after the restart and an already open contest became even more so.
Jones headed a semi-decent chance straight at the keeper and Mane had a “goal” ruled out for a clear offside before Liverpool’s central defensive weakness was again exposed when McBurnie planted a free header wide from Norwood’s cross.
There was also a late miss from Salah that had to be seen to be believed, the usually lethal striker missing an open goal at the far post from Robertson’s cross.
“It’s been a difficult time for me and the rest of the team,” said goalscorer Jones, dedicating the win to his missing goalkeeper. “This goal is for Ally’s dad. If he sees this, this is for you bro.
“He’s a strong lad and a big part of the team. We miss him for sure. I’m dedicating my goal to him and his dad, and his family.”
Ramsdale 9; Ampadu 5, Jagielka 5 (Osborn 55, 6), Bryan 5; Baldock 5, Fleck 6 (Sharp 80), Lundstram 6, Norwood 7, Stevens 6; McGoldrick 7 (Burke 55, 6), McBurnie 6.
Adrian 6; Alexander-Arnold 7, Phillips 7, Kabak 5, Robertson 7; Jones 8 (Keita 80), Thiago 6 (Milner 76, 6), Wijnaldum 7; Salah 6, Firmino 7, Mane 6.
J Moss 6