Coutinho, Firmino ride to Liverpool's rescue

Tim NASH
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Liverpool's Roberto Firmino (L) celebrates scoring a goal with teammate Philippe Coutinho during their English Premier League match against Stoke City, at the Bet365 Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, on April 8, 2017

Brazil team-mates Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino rose from the bench to score as Liverpool hit back to win 2-1 at Stoke City in the Premier League on Saturday.

Jonathan Walters's header -- his seventh league goal against Liverpool -- from Xherdan Shaqiri's cross put Stoke 1-0 up shortly before half-time at the Bet365 Stadium.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp sent on his Brazilian pair at the interval, teenagers Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn making way, and they turned the game on its head.

Coutinho equalised with 20 minutes to play before, two minutes later, Georginio Wijnaldum released Firmino to slam a stunning winner home from just outside the box.

Victory kept Liverpool in third place, two points above fourth-place Manchester City having played a game more.

Mark Hughes's Stoke sit 14th, eight points above the relegation zone, after their fourth straight defeat.

There was a big surprise before kick-off with the news that Coutinho and Firmino were on the bench. Coutinho had been ill and Firmino was rested due to fatigue.

It left Liverpool looking dangerously short of attacking options, with seven-goal Adam Lallana and 13-goal top scorer Sadio Mane out injured.

The home side made the better start, Shaqiri seeing a goal ruled out for offside, but were forced into a change in the 27th minute when former Liverpool man Joe Allen was forced off.

The Welshman appeared to injure his ankle in a challenge with Wijnaldum and was replaced by Charlie Adam.

Stoke forced the next chance, a low 20-yard drive from Marco Arnautovic that Simon Mignolet gathered at the second attempt, and the Austrian then slashed a volley into the side-netting.

Liverpool looked anonymous going forward and their first serious effort came four minutes before the break when Divock Origi sent a tame header well over the bar from James Milner's corner.

The Reds could have had a penalty when 17-year-old Woodburn –- on his full Premier League debut -- went down under a challenge from Erik Pieters just inside the box.

But referee Mike Dean waved play on and Stoke took the lead soon after.

- Unstoppable shot -

Shaqiri exchanged passes with Glen Johnson and crossed for Walters to head home from three yards.

It was no surprise to see the visitors make changes at half-time as Klopp introduced Coutinho and Firmino for 18-year-old wing-back Alexander-Arnold and Woodburn.

Stoke almost made it 2-0 in the 51st minute when an awful header from Wijnaldum obliged goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to foil Adam from point-blank range.

As the game opened up, Liverpool began to look more threatening, Origi curling inches wide in the 55th minute.

A minute later, Firmino's fierce first-time effort was superbly palmed over by Lee Grant.

Coutinho's first-time curling effort, arrowing towards the bottom corner, was then pushed wide by Grant after Nathaniel Clyne got away from Arnautovic to cross from the right.

Liverpool went even closer on the hour when Dejan Lovren's towering header from Coutinho's corner hit the top of the bar and went over.

Visiting centre-back Ragan Klavan escaped a second booking in the 63nd minute when he blocked off Shaqiri after the Switzerland international turned inside him.

Liverpool continued to probe, with Wijnaldum driving wide after Stoke partly cleared a corner.

The game was turned on its head in the last 20 minutes as Liverpool scored the goals they had been threatening.

Coutinho drilled into the bottom corner in the 70th minute to equalise after a poor clearance from Johnson.

Then Firmino lashed an unstoppable shot past Grant from the edge of the box after Wijnaldum's long ball over the top dropped perfectly for him.

Stoke almost made it 2-2 when Saido Berahino slid in for Arnautovic's teasing cross and Mignolet made a superb save, but there was no way back for Hughes's side.