Sparkling Sturridge lights way to brighter future for Liverpool
Liverpool 2 West Ham Utd 0
The Kop does not yet revere Daniel Sturridge in the way it once did Luis Suarez, but the roar that greeted his arrival after a five-month absence, and the goal he scored after rising from the bench, suggested Liverpool fans knew what they had been missing.
Within 12 minutes of coming on, Sturridge had scored the goal that sealed victory over West Ham United, a sumptuous piece of control with his left foot preceding a crashing finish with his right.
Brendan Rodgers likened it to the lights coming on at Anfield. Sturridge's introduction 20 minutes from the end of an impressive win was rather like flicking the switch.
Liverpool were already dominating West Ham, but the closing stages demonstrated what has been lacking during the striker's five-month absence.
If Liverpool's Boston Red Sox owner, John W Henry, wants to assess it in baseball terms, this was a welcome back for the man who supplies the home runs.
"He provides the light," Rodgers said of the England forward. "When you add a top-class player like him, you can go to another level. When he came on, the team looked very, very good.
"You've got a genuine top European talent in Daniel Sturridge. If you get him on to the field, everyone knows his pace and that will always frighten teams. When you put him on, you see the power he has."
That Sturridge scored with his first chance, giving himself a 100 per cent goal-to-appearance record at Anfield this season, was not only reassuring, but a test of Rodgers' powers of resistance.
An FA Cup replay and the Merseyside derby beckon, but having eased Sturridge back, the Liverpool manager was preaching patience.
"Daniel is still a bit of time off starting," Rodgers said.
"You saw when he came on, he was still getting used to the surroundings again.
"It's just about bedding him back in.
"It takes a bit of time and he's been out for a long spell, so we just want to make sure that he's ready and fit to start.
"In the meantime, he's going to be a great asset for us off the bench."
After the League Cup defeat by Chelsea - when Liverpool found a level that would have overpowered most other sides - it was satisfying for Rodgers that Premier League momentum was not lost.
Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling were integral to this, their combination play finding an end product when the England man pounced on the Brazilian's clever looping pass six minutes into the second half.
West Ham offered little, with manager Sam Allardyce cursing enforced absenteeism.
Their efforts to trouble Liverpool with physicality were nullified by the increasingly commanding presence of Mamadou Sakho.
A year ago the defender was perceived at Anfield rather like Dejan Lovren is now - an expensive, error-prone centre-half.
Rodgers has shown himself willing to extend the serving time in the last chance saloon.
"Sakho's got a really strong mentality and that's what you need. He's a tough boy," Rodgers said.
A record of just four home wins before this match contrasted sharply with the 16 last season, but the outlook is now brighter for Liverpool, with growing belief that a late run could yet salvage them a Champions League berth - something which looked so unlikely a few weeks ago.
While Rodgers can now see the light, West Ham manager Sam Allardyce's mood darkened as they slipped below their opponents.
Diafra Sakho headed the winner in West Ham's FA Cup win at Bristol City the previous weekend, but a row with Senegal over his absence from the African Cup of Nations with a back injury led to him missing the game at Anfield.
"It was a decision taken by the football club. I don't know the ins and outs of it. I was just told to say that, under the circumstances, it would be better if we didn't play him at the moment," said Allardyce.
Andy Carroll limped off on an unhappy Anfield return, joining Carl Jenkinson, Cheikhou Kouyate and James Tomkins on the sidelines.
West Ham can regroup when all their players return, Allardyce noting the difficulties of being successful when so many are unavailable.
Rodgers would concur. There is not much chance of hitting your targets if there are no bullets in the barrel. (© Independent News Service)