Stoke win highlights Reds progress

Thursday 22nd August 2013 8:56

Liverpool: Celebrate Simon Mignolet's penalty save

Liverpool: Celebrate Simon Mignolet's penalty save

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Liverpool FanZoner Richard Garnett believes Simon Mignolet, the Reds' front three and Luis Suarez provide reasons for optimism this season.

There can be few more memorable debuts at Anfield in recent years than that of Simon Mignolet.

The giant Belgian goalkeeper started off a bag nerves, flapped at crosses, distributed poorly, watched helplessly as his crossbar was rattled and pulled off a fingertip save - and that was only the first half.

But just when Kopites started scrambling for Rafa Benitez's new Italian phone number to see if Pepe Reina could be swiftly recalled, Mignolet turned match-winner.

Offensively, Liverpool had impressed, with the supremely talented trio of Phillipe Coutihno, Daniel Sturridge and Iago Aspas creating chance after chance.

The Reds' failure to extend a one goal lead (due in no small part to the heroics of Stoke goalkeeper Begovic) looked to have cost them dearly when the visitors were awarded a penalty just three minutes from time.

As the all-to-familiar air of resignation descended on Anfield, up stepped Mignolet with a fantastic double save. Minutes later, all three points were Liverpool's.

To dismiss Mignolet's debut performance as a bad one with a redeeming moment at the end would be short sighted.

The £9million summer capture has come from a Sunderland team who narrowly avoided relegation last season. He was no doubt a busy keeper every match.

At Liverpool, he must become accustomed to large periods of play when he won't touch the ball whilst still maintaining his concentration throughout.

With the Reds having spent most of the match camped in the visitors' half that was exactly what happened here and Mignolet was more than up to the task.

His team-mates celebrated the late heroics like a goal - as did the crowd - and the fragile wave of optimism around Anfield was preserved.

Perhaps the most significant attribute Mignolet displayed on the opening day of the season was character and tellingly he was not the only one.

Kolo Toure wasted no time earning himself the approval of the Kop, with an all-action display epitomised by his commanding presence and desire to win.

Jordan Henderson worked tirelessly throughout the 90 minutes whilst Lucas Leiva looked 10 times as sharp as he did last season after a lengthy lay-off.

This was a test of how far Brendan Rodgers' side has evolved in the 12 months since he started his competitive rein.

Despite their near total domination, in seasons gone by Liverpool would have drawn this match. Instead they ground out a win.

This victory was, of course, achieved without the suspended Luis Suarez, who still has another five matches of his suspension to serve.

As a consequence of their non-involvement in Europe this term, the Reds have missed out on a number of Rodgers' summer targets.

But regardless of his off-season antics, the now-likely conclusion of Liverpool keeping hold of Suarez represents Rodgers' best piece of business to date.

Credit must go to Rodgers and John Henry for remaining steadfast in their insistence that Suarez was not for sale for anything other than silly money and certainly not to league rivals.

The manager enhanced his reputation further by making Suarez train alone until he was satisfied that he would give his all for the team.

Rodgers has displayed the level of character required to be Liverpool manager in these last few weeks and his players have already responded positively to that on the pitch.

A tricky looking weekend trip to Villa Park will offer another insight into how much effect that mental toughness will have on Liverpool's results.

Just no late penalties please.

You can find Richard on Twitter @garnster - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too for links to all the latest blogs.

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