Liverpool Focus – Henderson coming to prominence

Liverpool supporters have had to put up with a great deal of inconsistency this season. Stunning victories over Tottenham and demolitions of Norwich and Swansea have been coupled with double defeat to West Brom and FA Cup humiliation away at Oldham.

Easter Sunday was another crucial game for the Reds as they aimed to keep their flickering hopes of European football for next season burning into April, and they achieved it by coming from behind to beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Villa Park.

The Merseysiders bounced back well from the dismal display at Southampton a fortnight ago, which all but ended their ambitions of sneaking into the top four for another campaign. With how the cup competitions have worked out, only fifth place will guarantee the consolation of the Europa League this season. The win at the Villains keep them within five points of Arsenal, although they have played a game more than the Gunners.

For once, Luis Suarez didn’t find the target, although it was a foul on him by Villa youngster Nathan Baker which led to the penalty that decided the match, converted by skipper Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool fell behind to a Christian Benteke strike, and were under the cosh for the majority of the first-half. They radically improved after the break, and scored quickly with a superb counter-attack which was finished off confidently by Jordan Henderson.

The England Under-21 captain is finally starting to show some consistency which was urgently required after a trying first season at Anfield. Signed by Kenny Dalglish from Sunderland for £20m in the summer of 2011, it seemed like the expectation to deliver weighed upon Henderson’s shoulders last season.

He scored just one goal all campaign, and was a liability throughout the season, earning plenty of criticism for his performances, alongside Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing.

While Adam was moved onto Stoke City on summer transfer deadline day, both Henderson and Downing decided to stay and fight for their Anfield futures, despite having been made surplus to requirements earlier in the summer by Brendan Rodgers.

The belief of both to make the Liverpool move work has really paid dividends since the autumn, especially in Henderson’s case. He showed great maturity in leading England’s youngsters through the racism storm that dogged their Under-21 qualifying win in Serbia last October. That experience seemed to make Henderson stronger, even though he wasn’t directly targeted.

He went on to scored the crucial goal in Udinese to take Liverpool out of the Europa League group stages before Christmas, and has now struck three times in the league during 2013.

Henderson’s revival in form has come at a good time for Liverpool, especially with a recent season-ending injury to Joe Allen and Jonjo Shelvey’s total loss of form.

April will always be a poignant time for Liverpool fans, with the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster approaching, but this result means there is still something to fight for on the football field in the closing months of the 2012/13 campaign.

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