Gerrard facing lengthy lay-off
WEST BROM 0 LIVERPOOL 2
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard could be facing the agony of another lengthy injury lay-off after being diagnosed with an infected ankle.
The England midfielder, who had only just returned to action following groin surgery, will find out the extent of the injury -- which flared up prior to Saturday's game at the Hawthorns -- in the next 48 hours.
Gerrard had fluid drained from the ankle at a Liverpool hospital yesterday and the club are now awaiting to gauge the effect of that procedure. There are fears, however, that the injury will force Gerrard out for a prolonged spell.
Confirmation of the recovery time is likely to arrive tomorrow, but there was a grim mood at Anfield yesterday as the captain received treatment.
What seemed to be an innocuous cut on his ankle, sustained in training last week, has developed into a potentially more serious problem.
The 31-year-old has only recently come back from a six-month absence due to his unrelated groin problem and was just regaining his full match fitness.
He has endured a nightmarish few months, and is believed to be devastated at the prospect of a further prolonged absence.
Much of his stress will be caused by the bewilderment at how the injury deteriorated so badly in the 24 hours before Saturday's match.
Gerrard travelled with the rest of the Liverpool squad on Friday. He was already in some discomfort due to the knock he sustained on the ankle, but it was anticipated it would heal quickly and he would be fit to face Roy Hodgson's side.
Instead, it got worse and on Saturday morning it was clear he would not be fit for selection and Gerrard returned to Merseyside for treatment.
The latest setback has come at a key period in the season. Liverpool play Swansea in the Premier League on Saturday and have high-profile fixtures with Chelsea and Manchester City following the international break, as well as a Carling Cup tie at Stamford Bridge.
Manager Kenny Dalglish is as concerned as Gerrard over the full extent of the damage.
"Steven has got an infection in his ankle. He was in our minds for the game but it just flared up," explained Dalglish. "It's nothing to do with any injuries before, it's an infection. I suppose it's like having an abscess on your mouth. We can be more accurate next week than we can be just now."
Any optimistic assessment of a swift return has certainly evaporated over the last 24 hours, however, and yesterday Gerrard was photographed leaving hospital on crutches.
By his own admission, it has been one of the most physically and emotionally stressful times of his career since he underwent groin surgery before the end of last season.
That operation cured a long-standing muscle injury which had forced Gerrard to consistently undergo pain-killing injections in order to play.
His rehabilitation was further complicated by an infection which did not clear up properly, delaying his return this season by three months.
Shorn of Jamie Carragher as well as the totemic Gerrard and confronted by a former manager eager to prove a point, the travelling throng from Merseyside would have been forgiven a few anxious glances as they entered the Hawthorns.
In Luis Suarez, however, Anfield has a player who is not easily spooked.
The Uruguayan might be embroiled in a spat with Manchester United's Patrice Evra over alleged racist remarks but he does not appear affected: another performance of consummate class here earned three points for his club and yet another glowing endorsement from Dalglish.
The Scot admitted that he had run out of superlatives to describe Suarez's talent and potential but was delighted his front-running alliance with Andy Carroll is beginning to reap rewards.
"I think the two of them have a fantastic partnership," said Dalglish, who saw a Charlie Adam penalty and a Carroll finish, both created by Suarez, hoist his side to fifth in the table. "The longer they play together, the better for them."
If it was shades of the Smash and Grab duo of big John Toshack and the more diminutive Kevin Keegan that inspired Merseyside success in the 1970s, Dalglish avoided any comparisons.
"It was big Andy's best game for us, technically and otherwise. Andy was always a five-year investment and I don't see any reason to change my mind on that.
"The goal he scored was on the floor so his height didn't matter. The more they (Suarez and Carroll) see of each other in training the more accustomed they will become and be better for us."
Albion manager Hodgson was livid when referee Lee Mason awarded a pivotal penalty for a clumsy tackle by Jerome Thomas on Suarez -- Adam converted to secure a lead Liverpool seldom looked likely to yield.
At close proximity to the incident, Mason had ignored the challenge only to change his mind on spotting the raised flag of his linesman, a decision that provoked Hodgson to touchline incandescence and a symbolic discarding off his coat, thrown angrily to the ground.
Last April, the 64-year-old Hodgson had expounded on the pressures of the job after Gerard Houllier's heart scare at Aston Villa, a year after Sam Allardyce's similar health concerns.
But while the League Managers' Association insists on regular checks for its members, Hodgson is more concerned about the implications of the kind of refereeing aberrations he endured on Saturday night.
"It's not a question of the standard of officiating but making sure that the really, really big decision are not treated as lightly as they seem to be on occasions," said Hodgson, while admitting his side were second best to the club that sacked him last January.
"There are situations, like the one we had tonight and others where I have seen penalties given when people are blocking shots and accidentally the ball strikes their hands, that are the type of thing that need to be debated."
Equally concerning was Albion's listless performance following successive local derby victories over Wolves and Aston Villa, Jonas Olsson's wayward distribution inviting Suarez to release Carroll for a cumbersome second in first-half stoppage time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)