Yes, yes: Football is a team sport and all that… but lately it feels like Liam Lawrence is keeping Stoke City clear of the drop all by himself. Two dazzling goals to secure key points for his side will standout as the highlights of Stoke’s late climb from the danger zone.
The first was a deft piece of in-the-box maneuvering 15 minutes from time in a tense match against Blackburn Rovers. Lawrence connected with James Beattie’s flick on. His first touch scooped the ball to the left, putting him inside the full back. His second touch was a left-footed strike past Paul Robinson. Britannia Stadium erupted after 75 minutes of deadlock.
In Stoke’s 2-1 victory over Hull on Saturday, Lawrence had a hand in the first goal, taking a 41st minute corner to create the chance for Ricardo Fuller, but it was his second, stunning goal that clinched another year in the Premiership for the Potters.
With 72 minutes gone, Fuller found Lawrence out wide right. With a defender in front of him and 25 yards to goal, many would have expected Lawrence to try to beat the defender to create a cross or at least run in and seek a more reasonable distance (and angle) to goal. But Lawrence saw his shot and launched it. The ball sailed into the left side of the net past Boaz Myhill. Stoke supporters checked their programmes to make sure Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard hadn’t snuck into the starting eleven.
The goal gave Stoke a two-nil lead, but it would later prove to be the match-winner after Andy Dawson took one back for Hull with a closing moments free-kick.
If your only knowledge of Stoke was these two fantastic goals, you might assume Liam Lawrence has been banging them in all year. But these beauties were his second and third goals of the season. Before the Rovers match on 18 April, Lawrence hadn’t scored since Stoke’s first home match, a 3-2 win over Villa on 23 August when Lawrence converted a penalty.
Lawrence was voted Stoke City Player of the Year in 2007/2008 when his 14 league goals helped with Stoke’s promotion campaign. Known as a scoring midfielder, his play was inspiring and influential. But in the Premier League the goals had not been coming for the 26-year-old midfielder. In fact, he only scored three during his last stint in the Prem as well when he came up with Sunderland in 2005/2006.
But Lawrence makes a good argument for quality over quantity. Or rather, timeliness over quantity.
Stoke have had decent form all season, but the lower half of the league table has been congested with many sides who had a good view at both relegation and safety as the season wound down. Liam’s lone goal in the match against Blackburn gave Stoke supporters hope they would pull above danger. But Stoke couldn’t cement their position in the subsequent losses against Fulham and West Ham.
Now, with his scorcher against Hull, Lawrence has given his club a sure place in the next EPL season.
Between scoring 15 goals in a season and getting relegated or scoring two pivotal goals to keep your club alive, there isn’t a striker in the world who would have trouble choosing which he’d prefer.
Lawrence’s scoring has been sparse. But the quality is boundless when he finds his moments.