These are challenging times for Brendan Rodgers, whose Liverpool side have endured the ignominy of making the club's worst start to a league campaign in 101 years, but a committed and impressive performance from what was effectively a reserve XI provided the Northern Irishman with a much needed first domestic victory since taking over at Anfield.
On a night when Jerome Sinclair came off the bench to become Liverpool's youngest ever player at the age of 16 years and six days – he is so new to the scene that the club got his christian name wrong on the team-sheet and put him down as Jordan – Nuri Sahin endeared himself to the travelling supporters with two goals to help the holders vanquish West Brom and secure a place in the last 16, where Rodgers will come up against Swansea City, his former club.
Sahin, on loan from Real Madrid, could have a valuable role to play at Liverpool this season, although it was the sparkling form of Oussama Assaidi that did most to catch the eye. Assaidi, signed from Heerenveen in the summer, was a joy to watch on the left flank as his dextrous footwork and sinuous runs tormented Albion time and again. There was also an end product to his play, which was evident long before the Moroccan provided the centre that Sahin turned home in the 82nd minute.
It was a result that Rodgers was entitled to cherish, even if moving up the Premier League remains the priority. His side showed character and composure to play themselves back into the game after suffering the blow of conceding a dreadful goal inside the first three minutes, when Gabriel Tamas volleyed home after Brad Jones allowed Liam Ridgewell's floated free-kick to slip from his grasp. On a bad evening for goalkeepers Ben Foster was guilty of a blunder every bit as bad at the other end, and from the moment that Sahin's 30-yard shot slipped beyond the Albion No1 in the 17th minute, the complexion of the game changed and a youthful Liverpool side grew in confidence.
"It's always exciting when you see young players, guys that have got great technique, but what is important as well is that they understand how to fight," Rodgers said. "It was a wonderful performance against an experienced team. For us to dominate the game like we did and to get the goals, especially the second goal, which typified what we are about, was very pleasing.
"I think it was a symbolic night as well because it shows how far we're moving as a group from our first day of the season here, when we were a wee bit disjointed and players were not quite understanding my methods, to the last three or four weeks, where our tempo, our rhythm and our relentless possession has started to come through. It was good to see that."
This Liverpool side was unrecognisable from the one that struggled so badly at The Hawthorns on the opening day of the season in more ways than one. As well as the difference in the level of the performance, there was a huge change in personnel, with Stewart Downing the sole survivor from the team that suffered a 3-0 defeat then.
Rodgers said afterwards that he has only 12 senior players fit, although on this evidence it will be no bad thing if a few fresh faces feature against Norwich on Saturday.
Sinclair, who was part of Albion's academy until he moved to Liverpool last summer, is unlikely to be on show at Carrow Road but this night will live long in the memory of a teenager who was four months old when Jamie Carragher made his debut. He supplants Jack Robinson, who was 244 days older when he made his first Liverpool appearance, as the club's youngest player. "He got a nice round of applause afterwards in the changing room," Rodgers said. "But now his hard work begins."
For Albion this was a deeply frustrating evening. Although Steve Clarke made five changes from the side that beat Reading on Saturday, it was still a strong Albion team and the manager was at a loss to explain why Sahin's first goal "knocked the stuffing out of us". Foster struggled to recover from that error and looked vulnerable on a couple of occasions in the second half, when he made unconvincing saves to deny Samed Yesil and the enterprising Daniel Pacheco, who also hit the bar with a delightful curling shot. Extra-time was looming at that point but Suso's driving run at the heart of the Albion defence ended with the substitute releasing Assaidi to deliver the cross that implored Sahin to score the winner.
Rodgers can now look forward to a reunion next month. "Swansea is a wonderful club and I was in no rush to leave," the Liverpool manager said. "It promises to be a great night at Anfield."
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