Liverpool eased the pressure on manager Brendan Rodgers as Daniel Sturridge scored twice in an action-packed 3-2 win over Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday.
The Northern Irishman has seen his position come under scrutiny after a difficult start to the season and Liverpool continued to show defensive frailties as Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho inspired a first Premier League win in five outings.
Danny Ings was given the nod alongside Sturridge in the absence of injured striker Christian Benteke, but it was another former Villa man in James Milner who gave Rodgers the perfect start when he opened the scoring with his first competitive Liverpool goal 66 seconds in.
The hosts initially failed to build on their momentum, but Sturridge’s first goal since returning from injury doubled the advantage on the hour and sparked a flurry of drama as Rudy Gestede inspired a fightback seven minutes later when he pulled one back.
Sturridge was again on hand to restore the two-goal cushion, finishing a delightful one-two with Coutinho, although Gestede’s aerial prowess continued to pose problems as he reduced the arrears to ensure a nervy finale for Liverpool. But Rodgers’ men held on to keep Tim Sherwood and Villa winless in the league since the opening day.
Coming into the game at the end of a week in which speculation over his future has hit the headlines, Rodgers could scarcely have hoped for a better start than Milner’s second-minute goal – the quickest of the Premier League season so far.
The vice-captain controlled a Coutinho pass and fired left-footed beyond Brad Guzan as the opening stages belonged to a buoyant Liverpool side clearly enthused by Milner’s early strike.
Gestede – in for the injured Gabriel Agbonlahor – proved a threat throughout and shot wide after a careless clearance from Emre Can prior to the half-hour mark, while a deflection denied Ashley Westwood a strike on target prior to the interval amid questionable Liverpool defending.
For all their dominance, Rodgers’ men were made to sweat late in the half, but began the second period on the front foot with Milner forcing a save from Guzan.
Nathaniel Clyne saw his follow-up attempt thwarted before Coutinho’s free-kick from the edge of the box was collected well by Guzan.
Rodgers’ side had their second when Sturridge conjured a stunning strike past Guzan with the outside of his boot after clever interplay with the impressive Milner.
The England striker made his return from long-term injury problems in the draw against Norwich City last weekend and scored his first goal since March before Gestede’s close-range strike curtailed Liverpool momentum.
The danger was short-lived for the hosts, however, as Sturridge had his second a minute later – collecting a neat Coutinho backheel before finishing past Guzan – although Liverpool again made life difficult as Gestede produced a powerful header to give Villa hope.
Defensive problems aside, Liverpool’s first home win over Villa since 2010 will build confidence at Anfield, as will a return to the scoresheet for Sturridge, who almost had a hat-trick late on when he shot just wide after linking with Ings.