Crystal Palace 3 Liverpool 3: Anfield side bid tearful farewell to league title
A GOOD five minutes had past before someone said it:
There was a team with a ropey defence, unused to the relentless pressure of a title race and that is committed hopelessly to attacking football – it was always going to end in tears. Luis Suarez had illustrated that point, the Liverpool striker being led from the scene of a draw with Crystal Palace last night blubbing away into his collar, but it would still seem necessary to admonish any sense of smugness.
It welled up in the final 10 minutes of the match in Selhurst Park, around about the time that Suarez began to fight back the tears. Palace substitute Dwight Gayle pushed two neat shots into the net to clinch a draw for the home side, with Suarez left looking around as though hoping the pitch would open up and swallow him. Yet Selhurst Park had refused to accommodate the will of the Anfield side and the striker was left to use his No.7 jersey as a substitute.
The statistics of the title race will not be so easily hidden from view; a draw last night moving Liverpool to first place in the Barclays Premier League, but they have slipped from pole position in the title race. Manchester City retain a game in hand and the knowledge that two wins will confirm them as England’s champions.
“We needed to win. It’s a massive advantage for Manchester City,” said Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager. “I think City will go on and win the two games and they’ll be champions. It’s been an outstanding season for us, to get to 81 points, but we’re disappointed right now. The dressing room’s very quiet, as you’d imagine.”
The plaudits which have so often gushed forth for his side had also fallen silent. It is a curious truth of the game that Liverpool were considered valiant title challengers as they racked up a 3-0 lead after 55 minutes, but left London being castigated for a frailty in defence, a reliance in a system which compels them simply to play.
Joe Allen had given Liverpool the lead after 18 minutes, the midfielder having found himself in space at a corner and steering a shot beyond goalkeeper Julian Speroni. Suarez added a second after 53 minutes when he strode on to a pass from Allen and then Daniel Sturridge turned in his side’s third after cantering on to a through ball from Steven Gerrard.
The captain seemed to have recovered from his slip against Chelsea. It does not seem likely that his team will be able to get up from this one.
The arrival of Tony Pulis as manager has galvanised Selhurst Park. The manager has turned their season around sent them up the table, first to safety and now closer to his former side Stoke City in 10th place.
He brought a reputation for hardy training and solid, unflattering football, yet Pulis has given his players a sense of freedom which allowed them to soar in the latter stages last night.
Damien Delaney struck first with just 11 minutes to go as his long-range shot deflected off Glen Johnson. It was left to Gayle to blow the visitors over, though, the forward scoring twice – first turning the ball into the far corner of the net, then slipping it past Simon Mignolet from a flick on – as Selhurst Park roared its approval. It was tempting to assume that an appreciative round of applause also sprung up from within the Etihad Stadium.
“I said the game would open up in the second half and we’d have a chance,” said Pulis. “When we scored I thought we’d have a squeak.”