Jonathan Walters planted the ball on the penalty spot and eyeballed Simon Mignolet as Anfield held its collective breath.

A sinking feeling pervaded - a dominant performance was about to be tossed away with the swing of Walters' right foot.

Liverpool led 1-0 on the opening day of the 2013-14 season; however, Daniel Agger's handball had gifted Stoke City a last-gasp lifeline.

Mignolet bounced on the spot and punched the underside of the crossbar in an attempt to unnerve his opponent. Then the Belgian guessed right, not once but twice, and the Kop shook like it was a European night.

Red shirts swamped the goalkeeper, punching the air in delight and relief - and for manager Brendan Rodgers, it was the moment that set the tone for the rest of his side's season.

"You saw the reaction from the penalty save from Simon - I think it was probably the start of the identity of the team and the spirit and the togetherness," he told reporters gathered at Melwood.

"That was something that stayed with us right the way through and something that is growing all the time. I sense that as each day goes by, we're becoming more of a team.

"I see us in the dressing room before games now and there's that real camaraderie amongst us all and that gradually gets better with the more success you have. So hopefully we can keep developing that.

"You work hard all pre-season - and we had an outstanding pre-season - to get that result in your first game, it can set you up. I thought our performance level on the day was very, very good.

"We created many chances, but of course, at 1-0 the game was always in the balance. To then get the penalty given against us late on was difficult."

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Liverpool face Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday in the reverse fixture, and Rodgers is under no illusions as to how difficult winning on the road against the Potters can be.

Historically it's been a problem for the Reds; Luis Suarez fired twice when they won there in the League Cup in 2011, however, in the league, Liverpool's last win came at the Victoria Ground in 1984.

Only Norwich City have beaten Mark Hughes' side on home soil this season, while Chelsea were defeated and Manchester City and Everton held to draws.

"It's a difficult place to get a result and Liverpool's record there hasn't been so good," admitted Rodgers. "We weren't very good there last year; it's as simple as that.

"Our performance level didn't merit a result [in the 3-1 loss]. Even on the best of days, it's a tough place to go and their record this year has proven that as well - they've only lost once. If it's a blustery day there, it can be difficult to play your football, but for us we go with real strong intentions to get a result.

"Mark has gone in after the outstanding job that Tony Pulis did and his teams are always built around good organisation, honesty and they look to play with verve in their football and look to attack.

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"That's what he's tried to implement in his team and you can see that in how they've been working.

"We know it's going to be a tough game for us. We respect them - they've still got a lot of the players there who played under Tony. What we knew then, we know now - they're very resolute and strong and very committed.

"Align that with the supporters, it's a difficult place to go and get a result. But we'll be prepared and ready for that."

One player desperate to make his mark on Sunday is Raheem Sterling, who could clinch a 10th consecutive start if selected.

The winger has been in impressive form since returning to the team in early December and Rodgers acknowledged the 19-year-old's vast improvement in recent weeks.

"He's been outstanding," said the boss. "He's been brilliant and has played really well in some big games.

"In other games he was very, very prominent. I think you've seen what he can give to the team when he's really focused. He's in a good moment now. He's happy and really focused on his football.


"I know some people were looking at me when I stuck him at right-back early on a few times, but I think you see now, whenever he does play in that position, what he can give you, both going forward and defensively.

"He's probably one of the strongest players I've ever seen. Pound for pound, he's as strong as anyone. You marry that strength and his quality and his focus, and then you've got a young player who has just turned 19, who is going to be an outstanding prospect.

"I've been really pleased for him because he's a good kid. He's taken a wee bit of stick from me since I've come in here. But it's always been in the best interest of him and the club. He's a good boy, he's consistently producing."

With injury to Arsenal's Theo Walcott ruling him out for a substantial part of the remainder of the season - and potentially the FIFA 2014 World Cup finals thereafter - Rodgers agreed there could be an opening for Sterling.

The Liverpool man has one international cap to his name and will be eager to play his way into contention to be chosen as part of Roy Hodgson's squad for this year's tournament in Brazil.

"I'm sure the England people and staff will be looking at that," said Rodgers. "Raheem's obviously one of the outstanding talents in the U21 team. [Walcott's injury] certainly opens up a door.

"But all he can do is concentrate on his Liverpool career and everything else follows that. He's played nine games now on the spin and been excellent in them, so hopefully he can continue that run of form and do his job, which is to score goals and create goals."