If Liverpool do win the league, Gerrard’s team-talk after the 3-2 win at City demanding the team produce ‘exactly the same’ against Norwich will surely go down in club folklore. Borini’s winner at Chelsea yesterday, meant this match had the opportunity to give Liverpool the initiative in title race, and Gerrard’s team grasped the opportunity, with a dramatic 3-2 victory at Carrow Road, a game as nail-biting as the scoreline suggests. Norwich made one change from the side who lost 1-0 to Fulham, trying to solve their problems in front of goal by swapping mis-firing striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel with Gary Hooper. Liverpool were forced into two changes, due to Sturridge’s injury and Henderson’s suspension, both gained in the last game at home to Manchester City. Lucas and Allen came in as replacements, leaving Suarez as the only recognised striker in the line-up.
Liverpool have started their matches quickly all season, and today was no exception, as an absolute bullet from Sterling gave the away side a lead just four minutes in. After some impressive passing early on, Sterling received the ball, worked the ball onto his right foot and hit a long range drive which Ruddy was powerless to prevent reaching the back of the net. This was the 9th goal of his season, where he has really proved all his doubters wrong. Sterling started the season struggling for game time, usually only coming off the bench late on in matches or starting the cup games, but since December, the 19 year old has become a crucial part of the side which are now clear favourites to win the league. Minutes later, Liverpool had a glorious chance to double their lead, with only Ruddy’s alertness preventing Allen’s shot inside the area resulting in a goal, parrying it away to safety. Liverpool remained camped inside the Norwich half, and their attacking attitude paid off moments later, when Suarez latched onto Sterling’s pass from the left hand side to cooly place the ball into the right hand corner, for his 30th goal of a season where he missed the first five games.
For Norwich, this was also a massive game, with the Canaries lying precariously close to the relegation zone with games against United, Chelsea and Arsenal to come. A period of sustained pressure from the home side resulted in some great opportunities to pull one back, the best one coming from Hooper, who had a shot well blocked by Allen, and the follow up from Fer dealt with by Lucas. Joe Allen ensured that Henderson’s energy and drive wasn’t missed in the early stages, displaying strength not usually associated with him, and closing down any decent opportunities carved out by the Premier League strugglers. He almost capped his fantastic early play with a goal, only to see his curled shot from 30 yards out fall just wide. Minutes later, Snodgrass fouled the Welshman, and was perhaps lucky to stay on the pitch after his dangerous two footed challenge, instead receiving a yellow card from Andre Marriner. Norwich continued to utilise the flanks, but Skrtel and Sakho largely dealt well with everything coming into the area, preventing Hooper from seeing too many opportunities in the first half. After an emotional week on Merseyside, a nice moment came towards the end of the first 45 minutes, when the travelling fans ‘Justice for the 96’ chant was warmly applauded by the Norwich fans. It was the home side who ended up the half dominantly, with Liverpool’s passing from the back becoming sloppy.
The Reds came close to killing the game off after the restart, after a fantastic 50 yard pass from Suarez found Coutinho, whose cutback was blasted over by Sterling, who had no time to prepare a shot. At the other end, Adams’ side continued to threaten, with Snodgrass’ shot being blocked, and Gerrard stepping in to prevent Redmond creating an opportunity for Hooper. However moments later, the home side pulled one back, courtesy of some poor goalkeeping from Mignolet. The Belgian flapped at a cross, and the ball fell in the perfect position for top scorer Gary Hooper, who poked it home. Norwich continued to pour forward, sensing that the goal had rattled Rodgers’ men, who looked lost in comparison. The tension increased, especially as Suarez spurned a decent opportunity to put Liverpool further ahead, his placed shot drifting wide of the post. After some defending, Sterling restored the two goal lead, ignoring the pleas of Suarez to pass down the right, instead taking on the Norwich defence himself, before winning a fortunate deflection off Michael Turner to loop the ball over John Ruddy.
Norwich kept fighting admirably, and Snodgrass almost caught Mignolet out, with a powerful shot aimed towards the right hand corner. The goalkeeper atoned for his previous mistake, however, and managed to push the ball away to relative safety. Liverpool should have put the game beyond doubt when Sterling was left in acres of space on the right hand side, but the winger failed to find Suarez or Allen in the box, and the attack broke down swiftly. Moments later, the Canaries got themselves back into the game yet again, after Snodgrass latched onto Redmond’s cross, beating Flanagan to the header. Once again, the nerves caused the away side to lose a great deal of composure, and were fortunate to get away with leaving youngster Josh Murphy completely unmarked on the left hand side, as the resulting chance was spurned by low-on-confidence Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. For the second week in a row, Liverpool were forced to attempt to run down the clock, and Sterling and Suarez did that job reasonably well, winning free kicks deep into the oppositions half. Lucas almost secured the win in injury time, but his shot was parried by Ruddy, and the rebound somehow failed to go in. The final chance was a free kick for the home side which saw the keeper brought up, but the delivery was poor, and the whistle blew to end an agonising last ten minutes for the Liverpool faithful.
The result not only put Liverpool five points clear at the top with three games to go, but also secured their participation in the Champions League next season. Fans know that the title is far from guaranteed, with a home game to Chelsea and an away trip to Palace still to come, but 11 straight wins in the league means a first title for over 20 years is no longer a dream, but a priority.