Sub Mohamed Salah maintained his incredible scoring streak as Liverpool won 3-0 in a controversial match at Stoke on Wednesday night.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was lucky to stay on the pitch with the score at 1-0 after a wild hack at Mame Diouf but referee Martin Atkinson infuriated Potters manager Mark Hughes and his players by only issuing a yellow card.
The official had already angered the hosts with Sadio Mane’s opener, with defenders arguing the ball had gone out of play in the build-up, but there was no doubt about Salah’s two late strikes which took him to 17 for the season.
Salah now has 12 in the Premier League, two ahead of Tottenham’s Harry Kane, so it was something of a surprise to see him start on the bench.
It was one of a number of changes by Reds boss Jurgen Klopp who also left out playmaker Philippe Coutinho and captain Jordan Henderson and gave Dominic Solanke his first league start as he switched to a 4-4-2.
The opening 17 minutes of humdrum football provided no warning of the controversy which was to litter the second part of the first half.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain released Joe Gomez on the right who ran the ball right to the line before crossing and Stoke were still appealing for it going over the byline as Mane’s impudently dinked the ball over Lee Grant from Solanke’s nudge through.
That sense of injustice, even though replays suggested the whole of the ball had not gone out, raised the temperature on a bitterly cold night in the Potteries.
The goal prompted Hughes to abandon his 5-4-1 and push right wing-back Diouf up alongside Peter Crouch.
But, after Georginio Wijnaldum blocked a Darren Fletcher piledriver, the hosts had an even greater grievance as captain-for-the-night Simon Mignolet swung a leg at Diouf on the edge of the area.
Stoke wanted a red card shown to the goalkeeper but Atkinson opted for yellow and Xherdan Shaqiri’s free-kick was deflected wide.
It signalled five minutes of panic in Liverpool’s penalty area but that could have been eased had Mane not hit the post having beaten Grant after being put through by Solanke, who had wasted a similar chance seconds before Mignolet’s rush of blood.
Joe Allen’s deflected shot ensured the nerves kept jangling early in the second half with the former Liverpool midfielder later blazing over Crouch’s knockdown.
They were to rue those misses as with 14 minutes to go Mane’s magic worked him enough space on the byline to stand up a cross to the far post where substitute Salah volleyed home.
The Egypt international made sure of victory by capitalising on a fumble by Erik Pieters to slot home seven minutes from time.
Stoke’s luck was summed up in added time when Diouf hit the crossbar and with the rebound, with Crouch offside, the Senegalese man ballooned over.
The Egypt star scored twice to take his tally to 17 for the season after Sadio Mane had fired Liverpool ahead on 17 minutes.
Dominic Solanke – given a rare start – slipped the ball into the path of Mane to give Liverpool the lead and Salah had to wait until the 76th minute to double their lead with a fantastic volley.