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IT WAS a sweeping counter attack which hammered the final nail into Aston Villa’s coffin. Pepe Reina’s throw found Maxi Rodriguez who expertly released David Ngog down the left.
The Argentinian continued his run and ghosted into the penalty box to dispatch Ngog’s pass past Brad Friedel with a clinical finish in front of the Kop.
It was a touch of genuine class and for manager Roy Hodgson a sign of the growing influence of Rodriguez on his side.
Having only scored once in his first nine months with the club following his free transfer switch from Atletico Madrid in January, the 29-year-old left winger now boasts three league goals in his last seven games.
That puts him alongside Steven Gerrard as Liverpool’s joint second top scorer in the league behind Fernando Torres.
Much of the credit for the recent upturn in the Reds’ performances has been dished out to the blossoming central midfield partnership between Lucas and Raul Meireles.
However, Hodgson insists the contribution of his “unsung hero” has been just as important.
“People haven’t spoken much about Maxi but for me he has been a revelation,” he said.
“That was a great goal against Villa with Maxi starting the move and then bursting into the box to finish it off. With it being the third it wasn’t the decisive goal but if it had been the goal which won us the game it would have been the goal of the century.
“He also scored a vital goal for us against Bolton and another very good one against West Ham.
“Since I’ve been at the club he has taken on board the work we’re trying to do and embraced if you like the role I’ve given him. He has interpreted it so well – both offensively and defensively.
“He hasn’t been getting a lot of credit but he’s a bit of an unsung hero.”
Despite showing flashes of brilliance, Rodriguez has been accused of flitting in and out of matches.
However, Hodgson insists that criticism is wide of the mark.
“Suggesting that Maxi goes missing in games would be very harsh,” he said.
“I can produce the statistics to prove he’s never missing. His positional play and technical ability is very good.
“I work with the players day in day out and have dedicated 35 years of my life to football. It’s a bit different to being a fan. I’m a tennis and a golf fan but I don’t pretend to understand every nuance of those games.
“Maxi is doing very well and his three league goals puts him right up there with Steven Gerrard.”
With skipper Gerrard still not fully recovered from a hamstring injury, Hodgson will be hoping Rodriguez is able to continue his hot streak at St James’ Park today.
Fernando Torres is set to come back into the side after missing the victory over Villa to attend the birth of his son with Ryan Babel expected to drop to the bench.
Hodgson also has Joe Cole battling to force his way back into the starting line up and with Gerrard and Daniel Agger both close to fitness the manager admits competition for places is improving.
“I haven’t had an awful lot of riches to pick from at times over the past five months so when I do have a few riches I won’t be complaining,” he said.
“It’s a battle I’ll welcome as it’s a long season with a lot of games.
“In terms of central midfield and players who can play behind a front player you could say we have riches. But I still think in certain areas of the pitch we are slightly lacking in depth.
“Where I am richest of all is working with a group of players with good attitudes who are determined to do well and have a good season to ensure they don’t let themselves or our many fans down.
“I know the fans care a lot and they need to know we care just as much.”
Having climbed to eighth in the Premier League on the back of a fourth successive home victory, Hodgson knows further progress is reliant on the Reds improving their wretched away record.
Today is their penultimate trip of 2010 and they have won just two out of 17 on the road this calendar year.
Liverpool face a Newcastle side without a win in five games and in turmoil following the shock sacking of Chris Hughton and the appointment of Alan Pardew this week.
Hodgson has urged his players to forget about the Toon’s troubles and focus on performing like they did at Tottenham a fortnight ago when a late goal consigned them to a cruel defeat.
“Newcastle are playing in front of a new manager and playing for their positions,” he said.
“But my only concern is Liverpool and making sure we continue playing like we have done in recent weeks.
“We’ve got 22 league games to go and we need 22 performances like the ones we’ve seen against West Ham, Tottenham and Aston Villa.
“If we perform below that level we will have let ourselves down. I still think we can do a bit more. We’ve got a lot of good players at this football club and quite a few haven’t always produced their best form yet.
“We just need to keep the shape and the work ethic which has served us so well.
“If we’re going to get close to the top then we need to start getting points and wins away. We can’t just rely on Anfield being a fortress as there will be matches at home where we don’t produce and we get a result we all dread.
“We should take heart from the performance at Tottenham. We need to play like that and we also need a bit of luck.”