Clarke has waited a long time to step into the front line, having already established his reputation as a trusted deputy, and he must be wondering what all the fuss is about after orchestrating an emphatic victory. For Rodgers, however, this served as the equivalent of a noisy alarm call and underlined the task facing him at Anfield.
At least there were some consoling words from Clarke, his one-time colleague
This victory must have been particularly sweet for the Scot, yet if there was any schadenfreude, he kept it well hidden.
on this evidence, was his bold prediction that Liverpool could finish in the top four this season.
“They will challenge for a top four place. I said that before and I stand by that. We reached two Wembley cup finals last season. I would have shook the hands of every player even if we’d lost the game.
“I have no axe to grind with Liverpool whatsoever, that chapter is gone. I move on now and I will try to write a chapter for me, here at West Bromwich.”
This was an outstanding prologue. Hodgson left such strong foundations that Clarke’s assertion of the Albion being the job of the summer was not mere hyperbole.
The few changes Clarke has made, such as new signing Claudio Yacob, already appear shrewd. Rodgers’s flagship summer signing, Joe Allen, cost £15 million more than Yacob but was chasing shadows in the Black Country sun all afternoon.
The Argentine, signed on a free transfer from Racing Club, achieved an astonishing 96 per cent pass completion rate and would not have looked out of place under Rodgers at Swansea last season.
Allen, to his credit, never shirked his responsibilities but will need time and patience to settle in just like the manager who recruited him. Fabio Borini will also have better afternoons in a red shirt.
Rodgers has far bigger problems than his new additions to contend with, though. Gerrard was alarmingly anonymous, Stewart Downing played poorly and despite Luis Suárez’s menacing first-half display, he missed far too many chances.
Daniel Agger’s dismissal for a foul on Shane Long killed off any lingering hopes of a Liverpool reprieve and although Long missed a penalty, Peter Odemwingie converted when Albion were awarded a second spot-kick shortly after. Substitute Romelu Lukaku’s late header rounded things off.
Agger, who will appeal against his red card, summed up the deflated mood among the visitors. “Everyone is frustrated. I don’t think the result was right – it doesn’t really make sense,” he said. “But that’s football and it happens. We have to continue. We showed today a bit of the football we want to play. I know we will bounce back from this.
“At Liverpool the spotlight is always there. There is no reason to panic. I think the Premier League is getting better and better. There will always be tough games ahead.”
Rodgers has pledged to make changes for Liverpool’s Europa League qualifier at Hearts on Thursday, with Joe Cole’s injury only adding to the misery on Saturday.
Cole managed only 11 minutes as a substitute before departing the field with a hamstring injury but Rodgers was refusing to panic as all the pre-season optimism at Liverpool was shattered at the Hawthorns.
In their next two games they face potentially difficult tasks against Manchester City and Arsenal.
Rodgers said: “It never is good enough when you’re a club of this status and this size.
“There are going to be more days of hurt as well, in terms of where we are trying to go. I knew the task was a big challenge, but obviously when you lose a game like we did then it’s difficult to take.
“I’ve known along the way it’s a big challenge and that’s something we need to make right. As you see, we are bitterly disappointed but we’ll use that as a lever and learn from it, and go again.
“Managers we all want time of course, but I understand the pressures of this game. We are disappointed to lose but we must move on.”