Sturridge fires Liverpool to 1-0 win over Stoke
LIVERPOOL, England (AP)
Simon Mignolet saved a late penalty on his Liverpool debut to secure a 1-0 win over Stoke in the Premier League on Saturday, with Daniel Sturridge grabbing the winner to prove there's life to the team's strike-force after Luis Suarez.
Sturridge smashed home from 25 yards in the 37th minute to score the first goal of the season in the English top flight, but Stoke was given a golden opportunity to snatch an undeserved point when Daniel Agger handled the ball in the area in the 88th minute.
Jon Walters' penalty was saved by Mignolet low down to the goalkeeper's right, however, and Liverpool could celebrate its first opening-day win at Anfield since 2001.
''You always pick the corner to go to and today I picked the right one,'' said Mignolet, who had some nervous moments between the posts in his first competitive start for Liverpool since joining from Sunderland in June. ''I kept a clean sheet, which is the important thing.
''We didn't manage to get a second goal but we deserved to win.''
The unsettled Suarez watched the game from an executive box high in the stands as he served the fifth match of a 10-game ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a league fixture last season. He may not have played even if he had been available after going public recently with his desire to leave Liverpool, in the wake of an offer of more than 40 million pounds ($62.5 million) from Arsenal.
Suarez's attitude has upset Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers but the striker's return to first-team training Friday suggested their relationship has been patched up. The Uruguay international attended this match, taking to the field an hour before kickoff in his Liverpool strip and carrying daughter Delfina in his arms to a ripple of applause.
He then took his place in the stands with his family and looked on as Sturridge collected a short pass from Iago Aspas - another debutant, alongside Mignolet and Kolo Toure - and fired a shot through the legs of defender Robert Huth and into the corner of the net.
Stoke was showing no discernible change in style or approach under new manager Mark Hughes than there was under old boss Tony Pulis, who left early in the offseason, and Liverpool should have been many more goals ahead by halftime.
As was often the case last season, Liverpool created a string of chances but a mixture of poor finishing and inspired goalkeeping by Asmir Begovic kept Stoke in the game. In the first half, Toure headed against the crossbar, and Jordan Henderson and Jose Enrique were also denied, while Philippe Coutinho curled just wide and Henderson struck a shot against the post after the break.
At the other end, Huth volleyed against the bar in the eighth minute but the visitors were chasing shadows for much of a one-sided game.
Despite all of Liverpool's dominance, though, it needed Mignolet's penalty save - and then a block from the rebound off Kenwyne Jones - to preserve all three points.
''It's always a concern as a manager when you dominate the game so much and create so many chances but today we only scored one,'' Rodgers said. ''I was so, so pleased for the players because they have worked tirelessly and starts our actual season on three points.
''The fluidity and flow of our game was good, our passing and combination play was excellent. I thought our intensity from the off was outstanding.''