A solitary goal from Daniel Agger was enough to give Liverpool a valuable 1-0 victory over struggling Southampton in their Premier League encounter at Anfield.
Southampton, who have now kept just one clean sheet in 15 Premier League games this season, fell behind in the 43rd minute as Agger headed powerfully into the top corner of the net.
Nigel Adkins, who along with striker Rickie Lambert had youth trials with Liverpool, came into the match with his side on a four-match unbeaten run, but that was ended abruptly as the hosts preserved their slender advantage to claim all three points - a result which lifts the Reds into 11th place in the table.
Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva made his first appearance for three months after being immediately recalled, along with Jonjo Shelvey, as Brendan Rodgers made two changes from the defeat at Tottenham; meanwhile, Southampton boss Adkins, a boyhood Liverpool fan, went with the same team that drew with Norwich in midweek.
Luis Suarez, who is not only the league’s top scorer with 10 goals, but has created the most scoring chances for team-mates from open play, roared down the right in the ninth minute and whipped over a devilish cross into the box, only for Glen Johnson to glance his shot wide from inside the six-yard box.
Steven Gerrard came close for Liverpool midway through the first half as he met a cut-back from Glen Johnson with a powerful shot from inside the Southampton box, and Luke Shaw had to make a crucial block at the near post with Paulo Gazzaniga struggling to get across to it.
Lucas, who had only previously played 74 minutes of Premier League action this season, linked up effectively with Gerrard as a first-time pass from the Liverpool captain put Shelvey through on goal, but he dallied and drove a shot straight at Gazzaniga.
There was almost a horrible mix-up between Gazzaniga and Shaw as Suarez nipped in after racing through to meet a raking pass from Gerrard, but the defender just managed to intervene in the nick of time to clear with the goalkeeper stranded.
Shelvey, who was making his first start since September, almost broke the deadlock before the break as he unleashed a blistering drive from the edge of the Southampton box, but his effort rattled against the crossbar with Gazzaniga comprehensively beaten.
Suarez thought he had put his side in front as he beat Gazzaniga with a stunning 25-yard free kick, only to see the ball rebound off the crossbar, but seconds later the hosts did take the lead as Johnson dinked over a precise delivery and Agger headed powerfully into the top corner of the net.
The second half saw Liverpool play predominantly on the counter-attack, and Jose Enrique made a lung-busting run from the left flank, before playing a slick one-two with Suarez which eventually culminated in the left-back driving a low shot agonisingly wide of the far post.
Another Liverpool defender almost doubled the hosts’ lead midway through the second half as Martin Skrtel beat Jose Fonte to Gerrard’s corner from the right, but miscued his header high and wide from close range.
The hosts were far from convincing in a nervy finale to the match, and Rodgers was left frustrated as a blatant handball from Suarez, as he looked to turn the ball into the Southampton net, earned the forward a booking which will see him sit out the trip to West Ham on December 9.
Suarez proceeded to shoot wide with just the goalkeeper to beat in stoppage time in a scrappy final few minutes; but given Liverpool’s faltering form, Rodgers will just have been relieved to have claimed only his side’s fifth win in 17 Premier League matches at Anfield in the calendar year.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Luis Suarez – Liverpool: Despite an absurd handball which earned him a booking, Suarez was by a distance the best player on the pitch and provided the creative spark, despite being often isolated in attack.
LIVERPOOL: Reina 6, Johnson 7, Enrique 7, Skrtel 6, Agger 7, Lucas 6, Allen 6, Gerrard 7, Shelvey 6, Sterling 6, Suarez 8. Subs: Carragher 6, Henderson 6.
SOUTHAMPTON: Gazzaniga 7, Clyne 7, Fonte 7, Yoshida 6, Shaw 5, Puncheon 6, Schneiderlin 6, Cork 6, Lallana 7, Ramirez 6, Lambert 6. Subs: S. Davis 6, Rodriguez 6.