LONDON • Brendan Rodgers claimed there was a conspiracy to oust him from the Liverpool manager's job after the pressure on his reign eased with a 3-2 win over Aston Villa.
Daniel Sturridge scored twice, the injury-plagued striker's first goals since March, after James Milner opened the scoring on 66 seconds against his former club to give Liverpool a first win in five Premier League matches.
There were nervous moments for Rodgers when Rudy Gestede twice reduced the arrears for Tim Sherwood's struggling side. But after seeing his side move within five points of leaders Manchester United, the Liverpool manager condemned the "hysteria" he believes has been deliberately stirred in recent weeks.
"I was never worried about the players," said Rodgers on an improved display. "They have been absolutely brilliant this group here and they have worked very, very hard. I am pretty confident that there is a group of people that don't want me to be here as manager.
"In all competitions this season, we have lost (fewer) games than Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. The hysteria around ourselves is interesting to note. Myself and the players stay very calm and work very hard, and they got their rewards."
He refused to identify who he believes is behind an alleged campaign to force him out of Anfield. But he is believed to be aggrieved with the number of former Liverpool players turned media pundits who have criticised his team's poor form and results in recent weeks.
Jamie Carragher, Graeme Souness and Jamie Redknapp have all been critical in their roles for Sky, though, when pressed, Rodgers would only say: "I am talking about people outside of here."
He added: "I think it is pretty clear. Sometimes we haven't lost games and the hysteria around it is pretty clear. There is maybe something else going on from behind."
Liverpool have lost twice this season - to West Ham and Manchester United. In the league alone, champions Chelsea have already lost three times, while City and Arsenal have been beaten thrice in all competitions. Yet, Liverpool's performances dating back to March have seen former Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti and former Borussia Dortmund manager Juergen Klopp being linked with Rodgers' post in the past few days.
A fit and firing Sturridge has returned just when the Northern Irishman needs him most. The striker produced a vicious left-footed effort to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead, and also restored their two-goal advantage with a placed effort.
"It's not rocket science. The last time we scored three goals was when he started the game against Tottenham here (in February)," said Rodgers of Sturridge, who has the best goals per game rate of any Liverpool player in Premier League history (0.65). "If you're going to compete at the top of the table, you need quality. We've got some very good players here and Daniel has shown over his time here that he is a really, really top talent. When you miss that type of goal threat from your team, you can suffer.
"He was disappointed he didn't get a hat-trick, but his two finishes were outstanding and he showed a great combination with Danny Ings considering it was the first time they had started together."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS