“WE’RE going to have a party when Suarez gets a pen” sang the jubilant travelling supporters as firecrackers exploded into the chilly Britannia air mere moments into Liverpool’s visit last night.
Come full time, however, the away end was almost empty with the smiles all on Stoke faces after the administering of another firm reality check for Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Just days after the high of the comprehensive dismantling of Fulham came the damaging low of this disappointing, disheartening defeat.
So continues Liverpool’s painful evolution under Rodgers.
Stoke were never going to be as accommodating as Fulham were at the weekend. Liverpool and Rodgers knew what to expect.
And, as the manager later admitted, his players didn’t earn the right to play their football. They didn’t fight. They didn’t compete. And they didn’t deserve anything.
But for all the debate over the physical approach of Tony Pulis’s men, there was one chief reason why Liverpool lost this game.
They couldn’t defend, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel suffering their worst collective performance in an age against the power and presence of goalscorers Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones.
Not even a first penalty in 31 games, awarded for a foul on Luis Suarez after just 34 seconds and converted by Steven Gerrard, could provide a platform for victory.
Instead, it merely irked Stoke into a response, Walters and Jones putting the hosts ahead within 11 minutes before the former netted again shortly after half-time.
Defeat – only Liverpool’s third Boxing Day reverse in 25 years – will hurt. Not least because it allows Stoke to move three points clear of Rodgers’ men, who now stand eight points off the Champions League places.
Certainly, the manager’s talk of a possible second-placed finish appears as fanciful as most Liverpool supporters believed. The path back to the top will be a long one.
This was always going to be a game in which Rodgers’ unshakeable faith in his philosophy would be severely tested. Maybe the Northern Irishman needs to now compromise on those beliefs; after all, the right way is always the winning way.
Too many players failed to perform last night; the defence creaking, Jonjo Shelvey anonymous, even Lucas Leiva struggling to match Stoke’s high intensity.
Liverpool’s record of 25 points from 19 games equals their worst such return since three points for a win were introduced in 1981. That came three years ago, when Roy Hodgson was sacked after losing the next game.