Swansea 0 Liverpool 1
The biggest game in English football has just got bigger.
Jordan Henderson’s fortuitous goal ensured the stakes will now be even higher when Liverpool and Manchester United collide on Sunday as Brendan Rodgers’ team moved within two points of their bitter rivals, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League spot.
Midfielder Henderson scored for a third successive Barclays Premier League game to make it five successive top-flight victories for the Reds.
Yet there was more than a stroke of luck about Henderson’s second-half winner after Swansea defender Jordi Amat’s attempted clearance ricocheted off the onrushing Liverpool midfielder and looped over goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
That will be of little concern to manager Rodgers, however, on what was a happy return to the Liberty Stadium as his team now know they can leapfrog United should they defeat them this weekend.
They certainly have momentum following what has been a remarkable turnaround in recent months — they have not lost in the league since their December defeat at Old Trafford — and that this was a sixth successive away clean sheet for the first time since 1972 merely added gloss.
The result was harsh on a Swansea side who had already defeated Arsenal and United at home this term, yet they were ultimately left to rue a series of first-half missed chances.
“It was a wonderful demonstration of the character and resilience in the team,” Rodgers said. “We just weren’t anywhere near it in the first half but second we really dominated it.
“Now we can look forward to Sunday. They are always great games to be involved in. Everyone talks about fourth but we will do the best that we can do and Manchester City’s defeat at the weekend gives us an opportunity.”
There was no place for Mario Balotelli in the Liverpool squad due to illness, while Steven Gerrard — available for the first time since February 10 following a hamstring problem — had to settle for coming on as a substitute.
One player who did make the starting line-ups, however, was Swansea forward Bafetimbi Gomis, who was declared fit 12 days after collapsing on the pitch during the loss at Tottenham.
France international Gomis certainly showed no signs of any ill-effects from his recent scare and he was denied a 21st-minute opener when he headed Wayne Routledge’s cross goalwards only for Martin Skrtel to clear off the line.
Another typically slick Swans move soon followed with Ki Sung-Yueng’s raking ball out wide to Neil Taylor controlled superbly by the left-back as he got the better of Emre Can.
Taylor fed the ball inside to Gylfi Sigurdsson who, with back to goal, rolled Joe Allen with a sharp turn only to bend his shot wide.
The midfielder found that very corner perfectly minutes later with a brilliant instinctive effort which Simon Mignolet, at full stretch, superbly tipped around his post.
The danger was far from averted, though, as Jonjo Shelvey was picked out from a short-corner routine and, connecting cleanly with his first-time strike, he looked set to be celebrating against his former club until his shot inadvertently deflected off Adam Lallana and away for another corner.
This was as sharp as the Swans had looked all season — their diamond midfield formation effective in stifling Henderson and Allen’s attempts to gain a grip on proceedings.
The half-time whistle came at the wrong time for Monk’s team, halting their momentum.
The warning signs were there for the home side Daniel Sturridge’s intelligent reverse pass played Raheem Sterling into space down the Reds’ right.
His cross was met with a first-time strike from Philippe Coutinho which would have crept inside the near upright but for the fine reflexes of Lukasz Fabianski, who turned it around the post.
Then, in the 68th minute, the goal Rodgers had been craving came, albeit with a large slice of good fortune.
Skrtel’s probing ball through the heart of the Swans defence was flicked on by Sturridge into space to leave Amat and Henderson in direct pursuit, yet the sliding Swansea defender’s attempted clearance inadvertently struck the Liverpool midfielder and beat Fabianski.
Then Sturridge almost doubled the advantage in the dying moments with a curling effort against the right post.
SWANSEA (4-1-2-1-2): Fabianski 7; Naughton 6, Amat 6, Williams 6, Taylor 7; Cork 7; Ki 7 (Dyer 80), Shelvey 6; Sigurdsson 7 (Emnes 89), Routledge 6 (Montero 73), Gomis 6
LIVERPOOL (3-4-2-1): Mignolet 7; Can 6, Skrtel 7, Sakho 6; Sterling 6, Allen 7, Henderson 7, Moreno 6 (Gerrard 64); Lallana 5 (Johnson 88), Coutinho 7; Sturridge 7.
Booked: Henderson, Sterling, Moreno
Referee: Roger East
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved