Match ends, Liverpool 1, Stoke City 0.
- Johnson scores first league goal since December 2012
- Liverpool end run of three league defeats
- Stoke go close when Bojan hits post
- Potters have not won at Anfield since March 1959
Glen Johnson's brave late header ended Liverpool's run of three successive Premier League defeats as captain Steven Gerrard was dropped to the bench on the 16th anniversary of his first-team debut.
Reds manager Brendan Rodgers insisted the 34-year-old was left out of his starting line-up with an eye on a busy forthcoming programme, but it was still a major call at a time of intensifying pressure.
Rodgers had £87m worth of his summer signings accompanying Gerrard as substitutes - but he also had the huge relief of ending the recent dismal run that has put Liverpool's Champions League ambitions under threat by securing a crucial win.
With Gerrard already introduced as a substitute and only five minutes left, defender Johnson reacted quickly after Rickie Lambert's header hit the bar to beat Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic and dive to head in.
Stoke provided plenty of anxious moments throughout, mainly through the gifted Bojan Krkic, who struck the post and forced a magnificent flying fingertip save from much-criticised Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet during seven minutes of stoppage time.
The roar that swirled around Anfield at full-time was testimony to the fans' huge relief after such a poor sequence and the collapse of the optimism of last season, when Liverpool came so close to winning their first title for 25 years.
It was a victory forced out of determination rather than inspiration, but Rodgers will not worry about that ahead of Tuesday's visit to Leicester City. This was all about the victory.
Liverpool's disappointing return, at least so far, in the transfer market after the £75m sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona could be seen in the presence of Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic alongside Gerrard as substitutes.
Whether Gerrard now spends more time out of the starting line-up remains to be seen, but here Rodgers could at least point to the three points his side secured.
Gerrard has been Liverpool's inspiration for much of the past 16 years, and it was a commodity completely absent in a desperately poor first 45 minutes, which saw Mignolet get the rough end of The Kop's tongue for the time he was taking over goal-kicks.
After the break, Liverpool finally attempted to press Stoke into making mistakes - although it was the visitors who created two glorious chances to take the lead.
Bojan's perfect pass put Mame Biram Diouf clear but Mignolet, after initial hesitation, advanced off his line to make the block.
The Belgian keeper was powerless to prevent Bojan's shot crashing against the post, but Liverpool had opportunities of their own, Jordan Henderson volleying inches wide and Raheem Sterling also just off target.
With the game opening up, Liverpool broke five against three but when Lucas was played in on the angle in front of an expectant Kop, his shot was too close to Begovic.
Liverpool's best chance came after 68 minutes when Sterling drove into the box and set up Joe Allen, who scooped over the bar when he looked certain to score.
Despite the increase in pressure, Liverpool were still searching for the breakthrough so it was inevitable Gerrard would eventually be introduced. The moment came in the 75th minute when he replaced Lucas.
For all Liverpool's improvement, Stoke were still a threat and when the hosts failed to clear a corner, Sterling was required to block Diouf's effort on the line.
But Liverpool recovered from that scare - and Johnson's courage secured a crucial win.
Ex-Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy on BBC Match of the Day: "Stoke played well, especially in the first half, they kept the ball well. They lost Steve Sidwell which didn't help, losing his bite.
"For Liverpool it was a strange game, they started quite lacklustre, there was a lack of energy and they were too deep. They did play in Europe midweek but they were slow. They didn't have Steven Gerrard dropping deep to get the ball. They were edgy which is understandable with recent results.
"In the second half the pressing was much better, the passing much crisper, they were getting at Stoke and the urgency was much better. They got their rewards through a brave goal, Glen Johnson has been criticised quite heavily and I'm pleased for him. Overall they deserved it."
Stoke manager Mark Hughes:
"We are disappointed to lose the game at the end like that. On balance of play I don't think anyone really deserved to win. We certainly didn't feel we deserved to lose. For long periods in the game we were in the ascendancy.
"We just got undone by a long ball into the box. Rickie Lambert has made it his own and a Liverpool player was the first to react.
"I was really pleased with Bojan Krkic, who was most the most accomplished player on pitch today. The disappointment from our point of view is we can't keep a clean sheet at the moment and that is holding us back. We had a performance that merited something today, probably not the three points.
"The game became more open in second half, maybe because we became encouraged that we could get something from the game."
- 4K Touré
- 3Enrique Sanchez Diaz
- 21LeivaSubstituted forGerrardat 75'minutes
- 10CoutinhoSubstituted forLovrenat 88'minutes
- 20CameronBooked at 53mins
- 17ShawcrossBooked at 58mins
- 12WilsonBooked at 38mins
- 21SidwellSubstituted forWhelanat 22'minutesSubstituted forAdamat 45'minutes
- 10ArnautovicSubstituted forCrouchat 88'minutes
- Craig Pawson
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Liverpool 1, Stoke City 0.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Kolo Touré.
Attempt missed. Jonathan Walters (Stoke City) header from very close range is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Charlie Adam with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by José Enrique.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Simon Mignolet.
Attempt saved. Bojan (Stoke City) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top right corner.
Substitution, Stoke City. Peter Crouch replaces Marko Arnautovic.
Substitution, Liverpool. Dejan Lovren replaces Philippe Coutinho.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Glen Johnson (Liverpool) because of an injury.
Goal! Liverpool 1, Stoke City 0. Glen Johnson (Liverpool) header from very close range to the centre of the goal.
Rickie Lambert (Liverpool) hits the bar with a right footed shot from the centre of the box. Assisted by Jordan Henderson with a cross.
Attempt blocked. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Martin Skrtel (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Steven Gerrard.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Mame Biram Diouf.
Attempt blocked. José Enrique (Liverpool) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Ryan Shawcross.
Attempt saved. Jonathan Walters (Stoke City) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Marko Arnautovic.
Attempt blocked. Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City) right footed shot from the left side of the six yard box is blocked. Assisted by Ryan Shawcross with a headed pass.