Daniel Sturridge scores on Liverpool return in win over West Ham
Striker Daniel Sturridge enjoyed the perfect return from injury as he scored within 12 minutes of coming off the bench to give Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions a timely boost.
The 25-year-old had been missing for five months — 33 matches and 3,030 minutes of football in total — with thigh and calf injuries but showed he had lost none of his clinical finishing skills with an angled strike past Adrian to complete a 2-0 victory over West Ham.
His short-term stand-in Raheem Sterling had scored his fifth goal in 10 matches, which is not a bad return for an only-recently converted centre-forward, to put the Reds on the road to victory but Sturridge applied the finishing touch to put the result beyond doubt.
Sturridge’s 22-minute run-out, having replaced Lazar Markovic, could not have gone better and it ensured another England striker did not grab the headlines on his return to Anfield.
Exactly four years to the day Liverpool signed Andy Carroll in a still staggering club-record 35 million pound deal but having been unceremoniously dumped by Brendan Rodgers the big front man arrived with a point to prove.
The only points he made in the first half, however, seemed to come from his elbow as he caught Emre Can in the mouth and Markovic in the face either end of the half.
His first indiscretion, which left the Germany Under-21 international with a bloodied mouth, appeared to carry more intent than the second, accidental knock, but referee Andre Marriner saw nothing he felt warranted a foul.
Aside from one header, easily saved by Simon Mignolet, at a corner that was the sum effort of his afternoon.
After the break his clumsiness continued when he was booked for catching Emre Can with a late, sliding tackle. He appeared to injure himself and was replaced by Carlton Cole soon after.
Liverpool showed many familiar traits; quick passing, neat build-up until the final third and a lack of threat inside the penalty area.
Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana — back in the starting line-up for the rested Steven Gerrard — and Markovic (twice) had their best opportunities while Sterling wanted a penalty just before the break after Joey O’Brien appeared to haul him to the floor.
However, the West Ham defence could not get near the England forward for his goal six minutes after half-time when he slotted Coutinho’s brilliant through-ball past Adrian.
It had all the hallmarks of a genuine striker’s cool finish and was a reflection not only of Sterling’s continued improvement in front of goal but also the growing understanding between himself and Coutinho, another of the Reds’ bright young things.
Rodgers has frequently described the Brazil international as a “magician” and his ability to produce the trickery to unlock defences as tight as West Ham’s will be something Sturridge will relish as he makes his way back into the action.
He certainly took full advantage after coming off the bench in the 68th minute.
Having received a rapturous reception from an Anfield crowd starved of his goal threat for far too long he rewarded them with an angled strike after exchanging passes with Coutinho.
It was almost like he had not been away but it was evident there was some rustiness when he snatched at the rebound from fellow substitute Jordan Ibe’s shot.
Where Liverpool would have been now had Sturridge been fit for the majority of the season is a hypothetical debate but this result meant they moved ahead of their opponents, who have not won at Anfield since 1963.
Where they are now is eyeing a Champions League spot, buoyed by the return of their first-choice goalscorer, with fourth-placed Southampton just points away, albeit with a match in hand.