When asked what it was like to face West Indian fast bowling at its most intense, the then Australia captain Ian Chappell, replied that nobody liked it but the trick was not to show it. You could say the same about facing Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Manchester United, who have never dropped a point here, do not show it. Arsenal do and tonight so did Liverpool.
The Anfield outfit were subjected to a cannonade they neither relished nor ever threatened to come to terms with and in truth the club, which on its first visit to the Britannia 10 years ago this month scored eight times, rarely threatened to break through at all. Roy Hodgson's revival of Liverpool, born in the cauldron of Napoli's Stadio San Paolo a month ago, stalled in an atmosphere no less frantic.
Rory Delap's long throw is Stoke's equivalent of Andy Roberts's throat ball or Joel Garner's yorker and although this was the first goal it has produced this season, Liverpool seldom looked able to deal with it. Ten minutes into the second half, it was a missile they failed to clear. Matthew Etherington played the ball back into the area and although Paul Konchesky blocked Ricardo Fuller's first close-range effort, the second nestled in the net.
If that goal was not pretty then neither was much of this match, although in the dying moments, with Fernando Torres hobbled by an ankle injury and Sotirios Kyrgiakos employed as a makeshift centre-forward, Stoke broke away rather more classically with Kenwyne Jones finishing off Jermaine Pennant's well-judged pass.
In Hodgson's words, it put the "tin-lid" on Stoke's first victory over Liverpool since 1984, in a season that resulted in the victorious club being relegated with 17 points and the losers reaching a European Cup final. There is no chance of this slice of history repeating.
Some of those who had travelled from Merseyside signalled their dissatisfaction by chanting for Kenny Dalglish, which, since the same team had outplayed Chelsea the week before, emphasised how fragile the manager's hold on the affections of certain fans is.
"That seems to be a part of Liverpool life at the moment," Hodgson said. "We are trying to do the best job we can. I don't know if that kind of singing and chanting helps anybody but I didn't hear it and I am sure there a lots of fans who sympathise [with me]."
One of the early images was of Robert Huth, with Martin Skrtel's arm around his waist, being dragged down at a corner, which on another night may have resulted in a Stoke penalty. His manager, Tony Pulis, felt strongly enough about it to confront the referee Mark Halsey in the tunnel during the interval. Pulis has said there should be a league table for referees and judging by the look he gave him, Halsey would be occupying a West Ham style position in it.
There were other images that summed up the night: José Reina lost in the melee as he came to meet the first of Delap's long throws; a fabulous drive from Dean Whitehead that hissed just over the frame of the Liverpool goal; and Dirk Kuyt receiving an accidental elbow from Danny Collins full in the face. There was a player dismissed, but it was the slight figure of Lucas Leiva sent off in stoppage time for a second wild tackle.
It was an evening in which the grit of Jamie Carragher, Kyrgiakos and Skrtel were stretched to even their limits and there were times when Liverpool seemed to have little other than survival on their minds. Only once in the first half were Stoke seriously threatened and this was from a long-range effort. But as they used to say on the Marks and Spencer adverts, this was no ordinary long-range effort. It was a Steven Gerrard long-range effort and it curved and dipped, forcing Asmir Begovic, at full stretch, to push it away with the tips of his gloves. Liverpool were not to go closer.
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICTCHRIS BALDWIN Stoke.VitalFootball.co.uk Finally things are starting to go our way. We've had our bad luck this season, but hopefully that the end of it. We almost shot ourselves in the foot last Tuesday, but this time we didn't sit and we made of the win. Liverpool didn't play well. Torres was poor and only Gerrard seemed to care. For us, though, Delap unusually had a good game, while Jones and Fuller are now getting used to each other and linking really well. Liverpool had one decent chance and Begovic saved that. Pennant was my man of the match; we need to sign him as he's only on loan. Hopefully we can have some consistency now and rise up the table.
RATINGS Begovic 8; Wilkinson 7, Shawcross 7, Huth 7, Collins 7; Pennant 9, Whitehead 8, Delap 8, Etherington 7 (Wilson 90 n/a); Jones 9, Fuller 9 (Walters 87 n/a)
STEPHANIE JONES Observer reader It's always the same at Stoke – physical, end-to-end stuff, and we just didn't seem to be able to step above that. I thought Lucas was a bit unfortunate to be sent off at the end as he got the ball in the tackle, but he might have followed through. It seems like it's two steps forward and one step back for us at the moment. Just when it seemed we were putting a run together, this happens. But it's not surprising really, because you can't isolate us now from what's happened in the last three years. We've got a different owner, and a new manager . It is not something we are going to fix overnight.
RATINGS Reina 7; Carragher 6, Skrtel 6, Kyrgiakos 6, Konchesky 5; Meireles 6 (Ngog 66 6), Lucas 7, Gerrard 7, Rodríguez 6 (Babel 73 6); Kuyt 6; Torres 7
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