Manager in bullish mood after seeing his side outplay Manchester City for the second time this season
On the final whistle José Reina covered his head with his garish yellow jersey and disguised the disgust at his part in Sergio Agüero's equaliser for Manchester City. One slip, one sublime finish, and Liverpool's wait for a win over a team in the top half of the Premier League continues. On days such as this the delay defies logic.
"That game typified our season," said Brendan Rodgers. "We were outstanding in our game and in our model of work but we were punished for our mistakes. It's difficult, because it is a game we should have won. Once we eliminate those mistakes, and we will do because there is too much great work going on, the draws will turn into wins and we will be a real force." Judging by the reaction of Liverpool's travelling fans after the draw, more fervent support than Reina-style despair, that belief is shared.
The Liverpool manager feels too much has been made of his team's results against the top 10, that it is some kind of media invention, and claims to be unperturbed by the winless sequence thanks to the progress made by his team. The first point is disingenuous, supporters dwell on them too, but the second received further substance at the Etihad Stadium.
For the second time this season Liverpool were superior to the Premier League champions and held to a 2-2 draw. Reina's decision to rush from his goal and the team's inability to contain City at a throw-in enabled Agüero, somehow, and Edin Dzeko to claim a point for Roberto Mancini's side. For once Rodgers found it "difficult" to take consolation in the positives and yet, even on a day when the gap between Liverpool and fourth place widened and their endeavour gave Manchester United assistance in the title race, they were abundant.
From the improvement in a defence marshalled by Jamie Carragher, whose doubts over extending his playing career beyond this season may dissipate with performances – and selections – such as this, to Steven Gerrard's magnificent goal and the blossoming partnership of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool operated on a different plane to their previous Sunday offering, that lamentable FA Cup exit at Oldham. "We showed great character," added Rodgers. "We just miss the two or three players that can really help the group, players that Manchester City can buy."
Liverpool were sharper and more threatening in attack than their hosts. A reflection of the quality of Sturridge's performance was that it left the contribution of Suárez in the shade. No mean feat. Rodgers said: "Daniel's movement, pace and hold-up play was excellent. His combination with Luis was outstanding."
The only blemishes on Sturridge's day were a booking for diving in the penalty area and a thigh injury that makes him a doubt for England's friendly against Brazil on Wednesday. City got behind the Liverpool defence only once in the first half, although they made the most of the opportunity with Dzeko escaping Daniel Agger's loose attention to score, while the visitors' movement and Sturridge's pace caused frequent problems.
Sturridge, Suárez and Jordan Henderson were the only survivors from the starting XI at Oldham. That defeat apart, the two forwards have established an immediate rapport and with better luck or finishing their understanding would have punished the champions prior to the England international's controversial equaliser.
The striker who caused such consternation at City by the manner of his departure to Chelsea – and was reminded of the fact by the home fans when substituted in stoppage-time – almost scored against his former club from Liverpool's first attack. Sturridge was foiled by Pablo Zabaleta's crucial challenge having beaten Joe Hart to Glen Johnson's looped delivery over the City defence but the speed that deceived the England goalkeeper was to be a feature of the striker's afternoon.
One devastating run away from Matija Nastasic, who came into the game nursing a knee injury admittedly, carried the Liverpool striker from the half-way line to the byline and Sturridge showed the awareness he has often been accused of lacking to find Suárez inside the box. The wayward finish did not match the approach.
The work-rate of Liverpool's front two, and the support received not only from Stewart Downing and Henderson off the flanks but Johnson from right-back, brought promise to every counter-attack from the visitors and unease throughout the City defence. Sturridge's equaliser will not win Liverpool any awards for sportsmanship after they refused to put the ball out of play with Dzeko writhing on the floor following a challenge from behind by Agger.
It is, of course, the responsibility of the referee to halt play in those circumstances and, though he missed Agger's foul, Anthony Taylor's call was vindicated by Dzeko's reaction when Liverpool ultimately did bring the game to a halt by putting the ball in the net. The centre-forward sprang up from his death throes to berate the assistant referee Andy Halliday and was promptly booked.
Amid the rancour, however, was the stunning finish into Hart's bottom corner from Sturridge, his fourth goal in six appearances for Liverpool and the first goal Mancini's team have conceded in 2013. The willingness to shoot on sight against a keeper of Hart's pedigree illustrated Liverpool's confidence and reaped more dividends when Gerrard scored a stunning goal. It was not enough to deliver that elusive victory but, as Rodgers has repeatedly insisted, it will come. It has to, on this evidence.