Mohamed Salah stole the show for Liverpool yet again as they returned to winning ways against Stoke City. The Egyptian extended his lead at the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts, coming off the bench to help his side secure three points to keep them in touch with the top four, if not quite in it.
It could have been a different story, however, had a first-half incident been judged differently, or correctly, by the officials.
Well before Salah did his damage, Simon Mignolet clumsily brought down Mame Diouf just outside the area. Had the Belgian not intervened, the striker simply had to swing a boot at the ball to find the back of the net. But as everyone in the stadium, including Mignolet, waited for the flash of red to emerge from Martin Atkinson’s pocket the referee produced a yellow, much to the Liverpool goalkeeper’s relief.
“I just don't understand why the referee and the other officials couldn't see that for what it was — a clear goal-scoring opportunity,” said Stoke manager Mark Hughes.
“If the ’keeper doesn’t wipe Diouf out it’s a tap-in into an empty net, and at that point it’s 1-1 and game on.”
Diouf’s compatriot Sadio Mane had given Liverpool the lead, popping the ball over Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant who threw himself at the winger’s feet to no avail. Dominic Solanke, making his first league start for the club, set up the goal, and should have had a second assist to his name after putting Mane through again towards the end of the first half, but the finish was less composed on this occasion and struck the outside of the post.
Joe Allen had a couple of great chances for the home side in the second half, but blasted each of them into the stands before Salah was introduced to finish the job against a tiring defence.
He emphatically volleyed home his first from Mane’s lobbed cross, before sprinting behind the opposition defence to make sure of the points for his second.
“Thank God for Salah,” exclaimed his manager Jurgen Klopp.
“It was a hard work but that's no surprise at Stoke. But two fantastic goals and brilliant play especially for the second goal.”
Liverpool hover below the top four while Stoke are perched just above the relegation zone going into the busy winter period.