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Rodgers jumps to defence of striker over dive

Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, has defended striker Luis Suarez following a defeat by Chelsea on Sunday and claims the Uruguay internationalist has become an "easy target" for critics.

One of them is Jose Mourinho, since the Chelsea manager accused Suarez of performing "an acrobatic swimming pool jump" in an effort to win a penalty at Stamford Bridge.

The Liverpool striker had been facing Chelsea for the first time since receiving a 10-match suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic and could perhaps do without courting further controversy in his career. He had been on his best behaviour this term too - scoring 19 goals already - having also assumed the captaincy at Anfield following an injury to Steven Gerrard.

He seemed to falter on Sunday, then fell down altogether when Eto'o challenged him in the box. However, Rodgers was quick to defend the prolific striker and suggested that it is too easy for observers to take shots at Suarez. "Luis is an easy target," said the Liverpool manager.

"I think we have had a spell over the last year or so where everyone was jumping on Luis' back, saying he was diving. He must be the only one who is doing it. But no, I don't think it was that at all; it was a valid claim for a penalty against a player who wasn't even making an effort for the football. I certainly wouldn't say it was an acrobatic dive."

Rodgers might have been inclined to tread carefully since comments he has made recently about decisions in matches involving his side have incurred criticism. He would intimate that he felt Eto'o should have been sent off for another challenge on Sunday, while he had already been scathing about the performance of the match officials in a defeat by Manchester City. That match also ended in defeat.

Asked yesterday if he felt decisions by the officials had cost his side more in last two games, Rodgers was coy. "I think everyone can see the decision-making," he said. "But I don't want to go into it too much - the games are gone. Everyone makes mistakes, the officials have made mistakes and unfortunately we have been punished. But they are gone now.

"The decisions were made, I didn't agree with them and I will always say, especially when they are as bad as I thought they were. But it's gone now, and we focus on the next game, which is Hull City."

There was far less discontent about the decision of Fulham to last night appoint Ray Wilkins as assistant head coach. He had last been a coach at Chelsea, a side which is within two points of Barclays Premier League leaders Arsenal going into the New Year.

There is a growing sense that the Stamford Bridge side can sustain a run at the title and John Terry has put that down the effect of Mourinho, who returned to the club during the summer. "The last couple of years we've lost our identity a little bit," said the Chelsea defender.

"There's some good teams in the league and when you go 3-2 up [for example] it's important you get men behind the ball and dig in deep and not give them opportunities to really feed on. I think we're doing that really well at the moment. At times when we're looking really solid, getting the wide men in and then when we do break it's important for them to then go again and show their fresh legs going forward."

Mark Hughes was simply standing still after the Stoke City manager last night chose not to content a charge of misconduct brought against him by the FA. Hughes was sent to the stand during a heavy Boxing day defeat by Newcastle United and is now likely to receive a fine for his indiscipline.

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