Liverpool required no reminder of what life was like before they spent £12m on Daniel Sturridge.
West Bromwich Albion inflicted a quick recap nevertheless. A dominant display with no cutting edge, the opposition goalkeeper in commanding form and doubts creeping into Brendan Rodgers' team before succumbing to a late blow from a set piece: it was the return of the tale Anfield had tried to forget.
With Sturridge nursing a thigh strain on the sidelines, the momentum and threat Liverpool thought were improving after draws at Arsenal and Manchester City disappeared with him. Not that the England international would have guaranteed a way past Ben Foster. The Albion keeper was outstanding as he twice repelled Steven Gerrard, once from the penalty spot, to give Steve Clarke a second Premier League win over Liverpool since leaving the club last summer. Albion's first league double over Liverpool since 1967 tasted all the sweeter for Clarke, having arrived at Anfield without a win in 2013.
"Kenny [Dalglish] sent me a text earlier on to wish me good luck," revealed Clarke, who was Liverpool's assistant manager under Dalglish. "I'm not sure he meant it, mind. He was probably wearing a red and white scarf as he sent it."
He certainly could have predicted the outcome once Foster saved Gerrard's 77th-minute spot-kick. Four minutes later Gareth McAuley escaped Daniel Agger's attentions to head home a Chris Brunt corner via the underside of the bar. In stoppage time, and from James Morrison's pass, the substitute Romelu Lukaku muscled his way past the Danish defender and converted low under José Reina. For all the flickering signs and plentiful talk of progress, Liverpool are without a win in four matches and below Albion in the Premier League.
Rodgers gave a familiar lament afterwards. The Liverpool manager said: "We just couldn't make the breakthrough. I can't blame the players, they gave everything. We were on the front foot and looking to create but it was a good away performance by West Brom and their keeper made some fantastic saves which kept them in the game. The result is a big disappointment. We will go again tomorrow – we've got the Europa League [Zenit St Petersburg away on Thursday]. We'll recover and go again."
Albion triumphed 3-0 on Rodgers' Premier League debut as Liverpool manager in August but, whereas the home side were seeking a fourth consecutive win at Anfield, the visitors had not tasted victory since Boxing Day. Their recovery was, in part, aided by the return of Youssouf Mulumbu in central midfield for the first time since 1 January – injury and international duty keeping him out – and the renewal of his partnership with Claudio Yacob for the first time in 10 weeks. Despite being allowed back into the fold since going for a drive around west London on transfer deadline day, Peter Odemwingie was not in the match-day squad. "It was not a difficult decision," said Clarke.
Rodgers replaced Sturridge with Jonjo Shelvey, who had the ball in the net inside 10 minutes after Foster had parried aGlen Johnson shot but was correctly adjudged offside and struggled badly thereafter. Gerrard went close from distance, so too Stewart Downing, and Agger headed just over from a corner and was inches away from connecting with the England winger's cross into the area. But Albion appeared content to absorb the Liverpool pressure. Their greatest scare before half-time came when Steven Reid almost sliced Shelvey's cross into his own net.
On the hour Rodgers replaced Shelvey, rightly, and Jordan Henderson, surprisingly, in an attempt to stretch the Albion defence through the energy of Raheem Sterling and Fabio Borini. The Italian forced Foster into another good save with a dipping shot from 20 yards but, as the Liverpool threat grew, so did the performance level of the former England goalkeeper. Foster produced a stunning one-handed save to deny Gerrard after Sterling set up his captain inside the area. The rebound fell kindly for Borini but he prodded wide under pressure from Steven Reid.
Then came the turning point. Anfield has waited all season to see Luis Suárez given a penalty (he did get one at Stoke) and must now wish it had not bothered. The Liverpool striker went to ground under a slight touch from Jonas Olsson as they challenged for José Enrique's centre. The referee, Jonathan Moss, awarded a soft penalty but Foster read Gerrard's intentions and produced a strong save to his left. "It was worse than harsh and I think it spurred us on," said Clarke. "When Ben saved the penalty … it gave us the positive momentum to go on and win the game."
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