Liverpool’s title hopes left in tatters by Palace fightback
Visitors let three goal lead slip with 12 minutes to go to give Manchester City the upper hand
Crystal Palace 3 (Allen 18,Sturridge 53,Suarez 55) Liverpool 3 (Delaney 79,Gayle 81, 88)
At one point, early in the second half, Liverpool’s supporters could be heard confidently proclaiming “We’re going to win the league.” Their team had just gone 3-0 ahead and, once again, had looked like worthy champions. What happened next was almost inexplicable and will almost certainly make this the night Liverpool threw away any chance of ending that long 24-year wait for a championship.
At this stage of the season, a team that wants to finish as champions cannot surely get away with being this generous. Brendan Rodgers’s team had led through Joe Allen’s 18th-minute header and they were not far off rampant when Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez scored within two minutes of each other after the interval.
Yet what a comeback this was from a Crystal Palace side that looked suspiciously in end-of-season mode for three-quarters of this match. Almost out of nowhere, Damien Delaney picked out the top corner with a 79th-minute shot. Yannick Bolasie’s brilliant run on the left set up Dwight Gayle to add a second two minutes later and, by the end, Liverpool’s players were on the floor and Suarez was in tears. Gayle had scored a dramatic 88th-minute equaliser and the title surely now belongs to Manchester City.
The result means that no matter how Liverpool fare in their final game of season, if Manchester City win their last two matches, the Premier League title will go to the Etihad. When Allen headed them into the lead, from Steven Gerrard’s corner, Lucas could be seen ignoring the celebrations to retrieve the ball and race back to the centre-circle to resume play as quickly as possible.
“Attack, attack, attack,” was the cry from the Liverpool end. Realistically, however, it was always futile thinking they could catch City this way, however obliging their next game against Newcastle might appear. The aim was to ensure the pressure was loaded back on City and, in fairness, the away side quickly set about trying to get last week’s defeat to Chelsea out of their system.
Tony Pulis has based Palace’s resurgence on qualities of structure and resilience but there was something disjointed about their defending at times.
Mamadou Sakho had already wasted a free header from one of Gerrard’s corners by the time Allen scored his first Liverpool goal, on his 50th appearance for the club, and the marking on both occasions was strangely lax.
Allen had peeled off to the back post, eluding Joe Ledley in the process, and the referee, Mark Clattenburg, did not see anything wrong despite Palace’s complaints that Luis Suarez and Lucas has taken it in turns to impede their player. Allen, hardly known for his aerial prowess was inside the six-yard area as the ball found him in space.
Suarez had appeared to be struggling with illness before kick-off but Liverpool quickly settled into their rhythm. Glen Johnson’s overlapping runs from right-back were a feature of the opening period. Raheem Sterling showed again that he often does his best work at the front of the midfield diamond and it was not until the half-hour mark that Palace offered any real indication of why they have avoided relegation with something to spare.
The Liverpool goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, produced a couple of splendid saves in those late stages of the first half. The first one turned away a left-foot shot from Jason Puncheon, coming in from the right wing, but it was an even more accomplished piece of goalkeeping shortly afterwards to tip Mile Jedinak’s long-range effort over the crossbar.
Liverpool, however, had produced the more refined football, with Suarez busily trying to create space in an often congested penalty area.
Early in the second half he was booked for dissent, having been aggrieved that Scott Dann had not been penalised for blocking him, and shortly afterwards he put a wild shot high and wide after Julian Speroni had turned Sturridge’s shot against the post.
Then Liverpool got serious. Sturridge made it 2-0 when he took down Gerrard’s long pass, turned inside Joel Ward and his shot took a slight yet decisive flick off Delaney on its way into the net.
That was the point at which Liverpool’s fans started with their victory songs and the volume went up again when, in almost their next attack, Suarez wriggled away from Delaney, played a one-two with Sterling and drove in the third goal. It was almost inexplicable that Liverpool could go from this position to taking only a point. Yet the truth is they defended abysmally after Delaney’s shot deflected in off Johnson.
Gayle took both his goals expertly, the first after being set up by Bolasie’s run and the second when another substitute, Glenn Murray, head the ball into his path. Liverpool came back looking for a stoppage-time winner but and the lingering image was of Gerrard on his haunches and Suarez covering his face in anguish.
They knew it was over.
CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni, Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward, Puncheon (Gayle 65), Dikgacoi (Ince 85), Jedinak, Bolasie, Ledley, Chamakh (Murray 71). Subs Not Used: Parr, O’Keefe, Gabbidon, Hennessey. Booked: Mariappa,Dann.
LIVERPOOL: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan, Gerrard,Lucas, Allen, Sterling (Coutinho 78), Suarez, Sturridge (Moses 86). Subs Not Used: Brad Jones,Toure, Agger, Aspas, Cissokho. Booked: Allen,Suarez,Skrtel.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).