Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish has praised midfielder Jay Spearing for stepping into the void left by Steven Gerrard’s injury-enforced absence.
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With the Reds captain ruled out for the remainder of the season after undergoing a groin operation, the 22-year-old academy graduate has been given a chance in central midfield alongside Lucas.
Spearing probably had the best game of his short first-team career in the win at Sunderland last month, the first Premier League match after Gerrard was sidelined.
Having not started under former boss Roy Hodgson, the former FA Youth Cup-winning captain has played in all three matches since, putting in assured performances against Manchester City and Arsenal.
"Any team in the world would be a better team with Steven Gerrard playing in midfield and we’re no different," said Dalglish.
"You feel for players when they’re injured but when they are injured someone else steps up to the plate.
"It’s to their credit that they’ve all stepped up to the plate; not just Jay, all of them.
"He’s always been a good passer but maybe now he’s got a bit more confidence and belief in himself and he’s encouraged more to do it.
"The games he’s had and the performances he’s put in will give him confidence but he still does that (the snapping around people’s ankles) and we wouldn’t want to take that away from him.
"Jay’s been fantastic in the games he’s played for us, and that’s a great lift for everyone at the club – to see someone like that coming through."
Dalglish has not been afraid to give younger, less experienced players a run in the team – although some of his selections have been down to necessity.
Spearing is ahead of Christian Poulsen, who has won more than 80 caps for Denmark, in the midfield pecking order while the likes of teenage defenders John Flanagan and Jack Robinson have been pressed into action because of injuries to Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio.
"We’ve got a few injuries and it’s how we react to that that’s most important to us and they’ve done fantastically well in adversity," added Dalglish.
"Jonjo Shelvey was doing really well as well until he got injured but now he’s coming back in; Danny Wilson is the same and Martin Kelly too – they’ve all been really good for us this year.
"But Jay has been the one who’s done as much as anyone."