Agger on target as Liverpool make hard work of Southampton
Defender Daniel Agger's first goal of the season ensured Liverpool returned to winning ways at home to Southampton but they made hard work of the victory.
The Denmark international powered home a header just before half-time, only his fifth in 133 Premier League appearances, after a host of chances had gone begging.
In doing so he helped the Reds to only their third home win of the season and back-to-back league wins at Anfield for the first time since September 2011.
But in truth it should have been far more comfortable than it actually was, which is a familiar story where Liverpool have been concerned recently.
They had 14 shots in a totally one-sided first half although Southampton could easily have had a goal of their own with Rickie Lambert's long-range shooting threatening to catch out Jose Reina.
The Southampton striker sent an early swerving effort just wide before, in added time, his 35-yard drive had Reina scrambling back to turn ball around the post.
But those two chances book-ended what was a procession of missed opportunities for the dominant hosts.
The restoration of Lucas Leiva to the side as defensive midfield linchpin after a three-month absence with a thigh injury transformed the dynamic almost immediately.
With both Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen freed to play higher up the pitch in a 4-1-4-1 formation most of the action was concentrated in their final third.
Jonjo Shelvey, also back in the side, bobbled straight at goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, Glen Johnson flicked Luis Suarez's pass across the face of goal, Steven Gerrard had a shot charged down and then fired wide after a quickly-taken free-kick to Suarez.
Gazzaniga denied both Shelvey and Suarez, who made justifiable claims he had been pulled back by Jack Cork, before the Uruguay international latched onto Reina's long kick and beat the goalkeeper only for Maya Yoshida to clear the ball for a corner.
When Shelvey smashed an angled shot past the goalkeeper but back off the inside of the far post it appeared luck was not on their side.
However, it took a double-dose of Uruguayan intervention to eventually help break the deadlock two minutes before the break.
Saints' South American summer signing Gaston Ramirez flattened international team-mate Suarez on the edge of the penalty area and although the Reds striker crashed his free-kick onto the crossbar it rebounded to Johnson.
His cross into the penalty area was met by Agger who planted a header into the top corner from 10 yards.
Southampton, having undertaken damage limitation in the first half, came out positively after the break and Liverpool struggled to reassert their dominance.
After the first-half deluge it took until midway through the second period to carve out a good opportunity.
Jose Enrique, marauding from left-back having been restored to his preferred position, exchanged passes with Suarez on the edge of the area but his toe-poke at goal was deflected wide by Luke Shaw.
The Spaniard also saw his drilled half-volley from the left of the area batted away by Gazzaniga.
Such was Liverpool's desperation to score the second and give themselves some breathing space Suarez tried to punch in Gerrard's cross.
It proved costly as his subsequent booking ruled the side's leading scorer out of next Sunday's trip to West Ham, who beat third-placed Chelsea earlier in the day.
Suarez flashed a left-footed shot just wide in added time but in the end Agger's goal proved just enough to ensure they crept closer to the top four, which manager Brendan Rodgers insists remains a possibility.
It will only do so, however, if they first find more support for Suarez in the January transfer window and start converting more of their chances.