Although it was undoubtedly disappointing to concede late on in Bulgaria and only come away with a point and indeed our defensive ability still under scrutiny... I couldn't help feel some positivity from Wednesday night. It was absolutely crucial that we built on that against Stoke.
In the car up I scrolled through Twitter and there seemed to be a general consensus that Lucas and Toure should keep their places; with Gerrard perhaps given a rest. When the teamsheets came out, many had got their wish, Apparently Rodgers hadn't realised it was the 16th anniversary of Gerrard's debut... but even if he had, what difference should it make to his selection? He has continually said that he has not been picked on sentiment - so it really should have been seen as a non-issue.
I think the Gerrard thing has been blown out of propotion a bit - in the modern game there are very few players in any team that will play every single game of a season that contains the league, Champion's League and two cup competitions. I should imagine that whatever the result on Wednesday night, or indeed our form over the last few weeks, Gerrard may have been given a rest in this one. He has played more minutes for us this season than any other outfield player - that is not how he needs to be utilised at aged 34.
I was a little surprised to see Enrique in the starting 11, I don't know why... I think purely because I'd forgotten about his existence a bit, but I was perfectly happy with his selection. I'm a fan of Moreno, but Enrique is pretty experienced and I think relatively solid. The Johnson hate club were not appeased however, as he started at right back. Again - I don't just blindly back Liverpool players, but I do believe in getting behind anyone who puts a red shirt on (Paul Konchesky perhaps being a push) and I feel the criticism has; as if often the case in this day and age; been disproportionate and unfair. I don't doubt that Johnson's career is on the downward trajectory but again he is a player with enormous experience and I believe more passion and desire than many give him credit for - something which became apparent in the 85th minute. Yes he has played poorly at times this season, but who hasn't?
Anyway - me and my Dad were in the Main Stand for this one, a departure from our usual spec in the Kop. I am never enthused about being in the Main Stand with it being the worst of our four stands, both in terms of facilities and atmosphere, but there was actually something quite exhilarating about entering through the old turnstiles and into a proper old fashioned football stand. You can feel the history in that stand, even when you are stood in an inch of piss in the toilets.
The lack of wide screen TVs everywhere was quite refreshing and I settled in to a coffee and a good read of RAOTL. It was also a nice surprise to bump in to an old work mate, and after a good chat we went to take our seats and he departed with a pumped fist and "let's get the win here eh?" It was a burst of positivity and unwavering passion for our club that you see so obviously lacking amongst the Soccer AM; Twitter trolling LADBible twats that are so endemic of the modern game.
I had seen some comments pre-match from Spion Kop 1906 about the Supporters Club Committee meeting and their decision to not bring the usual flags on to the Kop. Instead they replaced them with protest banners - it was stark and effective action. The absence of flags on the kop was striking in the way the atmosphere was effected. I also felt like there was a deliberate avoidance of singing and chanting, aside from YNWA. It was a strong message to the club and FSG that the Liverpool 'brand' that they peddle, sell and commercially rape is built on loyal and true supporters that they need to listen to as opposed to marginalise and rip off. If they don't, what has made Liverpool FC what it is and therefore such a commercially viable 'product' globally, will die forever.
Whether the lack of atmosphere was deliberate or not the first half did nothing to ignite it - it was a truly awful first half of football. We looked nervous, one dimensional and lacking in ideas. Stoke were not much better, although Bojan was a player who caught the eye.
I was entertained more during the first half by observing Gerrard's warm up and his wonderfully down to earth reaction to Stoke fans giving him stick... obviously over 'the slip' but also references to his punching technique. It really took the sting out of what could have become rather unsavoury.
I don't know if Rodgers is one for a half time rollockings but whatever he did say at the break seemed to have an impact. We were much better in the second half; although so were Stoke. They created a great chance when Bojan put Diouf clear and I had the perfect view of Mignolet's hesitation off the line - at first I thought it was fatal, but in the end he did enough to block the shot.
A little later Bojan then rattled a shot against the bar and we were lucky not to be one nil down. We had our chances too, and I will fully admit to being in the majority in the main stand who thought Henderson's volley had gone in and was celebrating for a good 10 seconds before realising it had gone wide. Our best chance perhaps came from some of our best football as Sterling looked more himself, driving in to the box, playing a great one two with Coutinho and setting up Allen who shot just high.
Stoke still threatened however and Sterling made a match wining contribution at his own end by blocking a Diouf chance off the line.
Despite our improved second half, you always felt that Gerrard's introduction was imminent and it was good to see him introduced as an impact player high up the pitch, with Henderson swapping in to the middle and Coutinho going wide. Gerrard's presence will always be a lift and we continued to threaten to win the game. The winning goal however, came from an unlikely source with Johnson the first to react to the ball breaking free off the bar and he was hugely brave in stooping to head the ball in whilst receiving a boot to the head in the process. Anfield went wild - and momentarily even the Johnson hate club were perhaps celebrating? I for one was pleased for him.
Now we just needed to hold on. I was expecting Johnson to go off after his head injury, but Lovren came on as we moved to 3/5 at the back. Hang on we did... although I couldn't help observe a lot of confusion and indecision in our back four. Rather than Lovren suring up our defence, it almost looked like he confused matters with him, Skrtel and Toure all trying to act the leader and the three of them positioning the back line at different points... people stepping up / back out of unison. More worrying than that was the slight disdain I noticed at one point from Skrtel to Mignolet after the keeper had barked some instructions at him.
We have to be pleased with the a clean sheet, but our defensive problems are still far from resolved, something needs to change. I would say that there is very much an argument for Toure keeping his place after today. Mignolet had an improved game, but there are still question marks over him and without a real alternative in the squad he has to play himself into form. Today was a start.
Ultimately despite not being a brilliant performance this is exactly what we needed - a clean sheet and 3 points. Now we need to build on this and it feels like the fact another league game is just around the corner in the form of Leicester away in midweek is no bad thing.
Onwards and upwards - let's keep the faith.