Jordon Ibe came off the bench early in the first half to guide home the winner as Liverpool took a huge step towards reaching the League Cup final with a 1-0 victory at Stoke City in the first leg of their last-four tie on Tuesday.
Jurgen Klopp was forced to opt for Ibe and the winger fired home left-footed in the first half as Klopp’s side grabbed a narrow but potentially priceless advantage ahead of the return leg on January 26.
Liverpool’s hopes of a record-extending ninth League Cup title were given a stern examination in the second half as Stoke piled forward in search of an equaliser. However, a makeshift defence featuring Lucas Leiva and Kolo Toure stood firm.
The prize on offer is a place in the final against Manchester City or Everton who play the first leg of their semi-final at Goodison Park on Wednesday.
Klopp’s delight at victory was tempered by yet more injury woe as Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren succumbed to hamstring problems in a high-paced first half, while Toure was limping at the finish.
“It’s a strange feeling,” Liverpool’s German coach told Sky Sports. “I’m proud as it was a perfect reaction from the last game (a 2-0 defeat to West Ham United).
“But of course we have two bad injuries and that’s why I’m not lucky tonight.”
The eight-times winners were sharp and incisive as they pinned Stoke back in the early stages although they again looked to be lacking a killer instinct in front of goal.
However, it was substitute Ibe who broke the deadlock for the visitors, putting the finishing touch to a swift counter attack after 37 minutes.
Adam Lallana beat the offside trap down the right flank and squared for Joe Allen, whose scuffed shot fell into the path of Ibe who controlled the ball neatly before dispatching his left-footed shot low into the net.
Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino was denied by a last-ditch tackle from Ryan Shawcross, but Stoke did finish the half with their best two chances as Marko Arnautovic headed wide and former Liverpool fullback Glen Johnson drew a good save from Simon Mignolet.
Stoke brought on striker Jonathan Walters for the second half and piled men forward but created few chances from a sustained period of pressure, until the substitute pulled an effort wide in stoppage time.
At the other end, Liverpool had penalty appeals turned down when Allen and Nathaniel Clyne were barged over in the box, while Ibe hit the side netting.