Photos: Burnley 0, Liverpool 1
Raheem Sterling’s second half strike wrapped up the points for Liverpool as they edged past the Clarets in a Boxing Day clash in East Lancashire.
The loss, Burnley’s ninth of the term, ensured they remained in the bottom three in the Premier League ahead of a tricky trip to face Manuel Pellegrini’s champions.
The Clarets just couldn’t make pressure pay in the first half.
Liverpool did have the ball in the net during a one minute applause for the recovering Clarke Carlisle, but Sterling was unable to ruin the moment in dedication for the one-time Turf Moor defender as the linesman’s flag was raised.
Danny Ings, who couldn’t get the ball out of his legs early on to reward Scott Arfield’s endeavour, was full of life and almost found the top corner following clever work from Dean Marney in midfield, but his strike swung away from the upright.
After Tom Heaton claimed Philippe Coutinho’s deflected effort, Ings thumped the foot of the post as space opened up on the edge of the box from Ben Mee’s throw-in. Brad Jones could only watch as his right hand upright was struck before Ashley Barnes blazed over from the rebound.
At that point Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was forced to go back on his word. With Jones pulling a muscle, Simon Mignolet’s “indefinite” spell on the sidelines came to a premature conclusion.
And his first contribution - striking the frame of Ings as he delayed a clearance from Mamadou Sakho’s back pass.
The hosts were in complete control against the Champions League dropouts. As the volume inside the stadium rose, Sean Dyche’s side pressed harder.
They almost reaped the rewards for that when George Boyd won the ball from Steven Gerrard on the halfway line, Barnes broke, offloaded to Dean Marney but the striker lifted a header over the bar from the midfielder’s centre.
The visitors did create another opportunity when catching the Clarets overplaying in the centre of the park, but Heaton denied Adam Lallana from Gerrard’s incisive pass.
As the home side’s momentum heightened, Scott Arfield looked to have found the aperture inside Mignolet’s post with a sweeping volley but Lucas Leiva fortuitously stuck out a toe to divert the attempt around the woodwork.
And in the run up to the interval, Boyd flashed an effort over the bar after Barnes tussled aerially with Martin Skrtel while Marney lifted a shot in to the packed David Fishwick Stand.
But Burnley’s lack of a Boxing Day punch was punished just after the hour as Sterling provided the knockout blow.
A rare moment of invention led to Liverpool’s winner; Coutinho flicked instinctively in to the path of Sterling who ran off the shoulder of Jason Shackell to gain possession, round Heaton and roll the ball home for his first league goal since September.
The home side continued to commit bodies forward, but without the conviction and merit of their first half display.
Michael Keane towered above Sakho to meet Kieran Trippier’s back post cross, but the defender directed his header in to the side-netting as Mignolet scrambled to his post.
Liverpool went close again when Coutinho wriggled mesmerically through David Jones, Arfield and Mee but his resulting shot was deflected wide of the near post.
Substitute Rickie Lambert had a goal wiped out after replacing Coutinho in the 73rd minute, prompting Dyche to ring the changes.
The first saw striker Sam Vokes make his first appearance since March when replacing Barnes with 10 minutes remaining while Ross Wallace and Lukas Jutkiewicz followed at the expense of Jones and Mee respectively.
Boyd sliced wide from Trippier’s precise pass infield as the clock ticked down before Sterling’s strike whistled beyond Heaton’s outstretched fingertips and the bar.
Liverpool’s luck was in though as they were gifted a belated Christmas present. The Clarets now face Manchester City at the Etihad on December 28th.