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Monday, May 16, 2011

Spurs overtake poor Reds

Liverpool’s hopes of securing European football for next season were dealt a body blow yesterday, as Spurs became the first team to leave Anfield with three points during Kenny Dalglish’s second spell in the Reds’ managerial hot seat. The visitors’ 2-0 victory, earned by Van der Vaart’s wonder goal and Luka Modric’s controversial spot kick, takes them into fifth and hands them the initiative in the race for Europa League qualification heading into the final weekend of what has been a fascinating campaign.

Following Monday’s emphatic victory over Fulham the Reds remained largely unchanged, with Andy Carroll replacing the injured Raul Meireles in the only alteration to the Merseysiders’ starting line-up. In truth though, the tall Geordie target man failed to make an impact and he clearly lacked sharpness as he struggles back to match fitness.

Crucially, his teammates weren’t much better throughout the 90 minutes and Tottenham took full advantage, escaping with an unanticipated victory. The Lilywhites controlled the opening exchanges and their bright start was rewarded nine minutes in when Van der Vaart’s sensational strike from the edge of the area dipped over Reina and into the Kop end net.

As the hosts struggled to make their mark on the match, their frustration became apparent, with Luis Suarez foolishly picking up a yellow card after kicking Tottenham centre back Michael Dawson in an off the ball incident that could have seen the Uruguayan sent off.

In fact, with self-confessed United fan Howard Webb refereeing the contest; it was surprising that Liverpool's number seven didn't see red. However, that proved to be one of few correct decisions made by the clean-shaven Fergie fan, as he persistently left the Anfield faithful exasperated with some perplexing decisions. This was demonstrated on the half hour mark, when Webb refused to point to the spot after Daniel Rose dragged Dirk Kuyt down in the box with a mindless challenge.

Approaching the interval Dalglish's troops began to improve, placing the visitors under a brief spell of pressure. On 37 minutes Carroll disappointingly headed a great chance over the bar after Skrtel's cross had found him unmarked at the back post, before his strike partner Luis Suarez whizzed a free kick narrowly wide on the stroke of half time.

The Reds' tame and timid first half display lacked attacking vigour and verve and a much-improved performance was needed in order to take anything from the match. Unfortunately, in a similar fashion to the first period Spurs started the second half the superior, and doubled their lead 10 minutes after the restart with the help of the shockingly dreadful Webb.

Flanagan's strong yet fair shoulder barge on former Evertonian Steven Pienaar took place outside of the penalty area, however Howard Webb outrageously awarded Harry Redknapp's side a spot kick.

The much-coveted Croatian midfielder Luka Modric stepped up to convert the penalty, placing the ball right down the centre of Reina's goal as the Spaniard dived to his right.

Only moments later Liverpool were denied a penalty of their own when the Kop complained that Rose had handled in the box. In all-fairness though, Webb's decision to not award a spot kick was later proven correct by TV replays. After that Suarez smacked Flanagan's low cross into the Kop, before Jonjo Shelvey replaced Jay Spearing and almost made an instant impact, thundering a 30-yard screamer inches wide of target with Cudicini beaten.

Apart from that though the game petered out into a low key conclusion, with the only 'entertainment' arriving when Lucas and Skrtel tackled a cart wheeling streaker to the delight of the crowd after the nutty nudist has comically evaded Pepe Reina.

Considering both sides' respective form heading into the match, and the fact that Spurs had failed to win at Anfield in 18 years prior to yesterday's encounter, this defeat is disappointing and unexpected in equal measure. Although a fair portion of blame can be apportioned to the woeful Webb, the Reds' below par performance admittedly warranted nothing other than defeat.

With Spurs now sitting in fifth, the Reds must better the Londoner's result on the final day of the season to qualify for the Europa League and, although some suggest a sixth placed finish may be a blessing in disguise, Dalglish will expect nothing less than 100% at Villa next Sunday.


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