All seemed unusually well after 45 minutes of football at White Hart Lane. One goal to the good and having fashioned plenty more chances to have added to their lead in the opening half. The Reds seemed on course to record a significant result, against one of the Premier League’s in form teams.
Yet, Liverpool fans were ultimately left with those all too familiar sensations of disappointment and frustration. As a last-gasp Spurs winner condemned them to a demoralizing 2-1 defeat. Followed remorselessly by the news that the Reds would be without their stand-in captain Jamie Carragher for at least a month, through injury, and an away draw against Manchester United in the FA Cup.
There will, no doubt, be positives to take from the manner of this performance. There is a strong case to suggest that this was Roy Hodgson’s team’s best away showing of the season. But, on the face of things, Liverpool’s wretched away record now reflects five defeats from just eight fixtures this season. A record which is simply not up to scratch.
If you fail to take clear cut chances, against a very good and confident Premier League oufit – a description which Tottenham match at present – then there is every chance you will come unstuck. Be it deserved or not.
Liverpool were well-worth the lead earned via Martin Skrtel’s 42nd minute finish, after the Slovakian had avoided challenge and brought down Raul Meireles’s lofted free-kick. They at least matched a Spurs side coming into the game on the back of some impressive recent results.
The performance of Meireles was particularly instrumental and deserving of note. The Portuguese midfielder appears to be relishing his continued stint in the centre and must surely be utilised in that role in most games alongside Steven Gerrard, when fit. However, his midfield partner Lucas also deserves credit, as one of the most impressive performers on the day. As Liverpool were able to produce a much more imposing display in the centre of the pitch.
With Meireles pulling the strings Liverpool matched their hosts and created plenty of opportunities, in what was building to be a pulsating, end-to-end encounter. Luka Modric tested Pepe Reina in the opening minutes from Aaron Lennon’s cut-back. Although the Spanish stopper saved comfortably.
The Reds were willing to try their luck from distance and Maxi Rodriguez was not to far wide with such an effort soon after. Meireles and Maxi, again, then forced Heurelho Gomes into action with a couple of decent strikes from outside the area.
The pace of movement of Spurs as an attacking force – despite losing Rafael van der Vaart to injury early on – was a persistent threat. One which the visiting defence did cope with well for the most part. Although Spurs almost profited after half an hour. Reina got to Modric’s cross but could not gather and the ball was spilled into the path of early substitute, Jermain Defoe. Liverpool were grateful for a vital block from a resolute Carragher, denying Defoe a simple goal.
Defoe had also earlier forced Reina in to a sharp save. But it was who gained the advantage shortly before half time. Skrtel finally broke the deadlock in Liverpool’s favour – just his second in English football.
And Liverpool could and should have added to that advantage either side of the interval. The best of a clutch of very good goal scoring chances fell to Maxi. The opening was set up by an exquisite ball by Fernando Torres. The striker released Maxi clean through on goal. Yet, the Argentine – not for the first time in recent weeks – hesitated too long. And a glorious chance was gone.
Torres was to find himself with two further opportunities to increase the lead before and after the break. Both times getting behind a faltering Tottenham defence, as Liverpool began to firming establish their authority over the match.
In times gone by you can be virtual certain that Torres would have finished at least one of these chances without hesitation. Yet – similarly to Maxi – it is just that hesitation which is the Spaniards nemesis this season. On both occasions Torres delayed and granted Sebastian Bassong an opportunity to recover – which he grasped.
Ultimately the Reds were made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal. As you would expect of a home side in their position, Harry Redknapp’s side poured forward in search of a route back into the game.
And were Liverpool lacked ruthlessness, Spurs did not. Although their cause was assisted by some dubious referring decisions.
David N’Gog blocked Gareth Bale’s free-kick with his arm to gift Tottenham the chance of an equaliser. However, the resulting penalty was wasted when Defoe shot wide to the left of Reina’s goal.
Spurs, though, did not have to wait on to draw level. Modric’s mazy run and cross from the left of the area was turned into his own net by the former hero of the hour – Martin Skrtel. Unfortunate for the defender; who had otherwise been solid throughout.
Credit to Liverpool for continuing to search for a winner as the game entered its final phase. But, in truth, it was Spurs, who always appeared to have that attacking edge and were willing to commit more men forward and quicker – as would probably be anticipated as the home side. And the hosts generally looked the more likely to the two sides to conjure up a winner.
Dirk kuyt was adamant that he should have been denied a penalty following a foul by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. And a ferocious left-foot effort from Meireles went a fraction wide of Gomes’s post.
However the loss of the organisational skills of Carragher to a shoulder injury in the closing stages was a blow. And it was a defensive error which condemned the Reds to yet more misery on their travels. Paul Konchesky was badly caught out of position as Spurs broke away in injury time. Lennon was thus allowed the space to run onto Assou-Ekotto’s long pass and clean through, one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The winger nonchalantly slotting home the winning goal.
There is surely no doubt, though, that the more expansive, forward-thinking Liverpool, which was witnessed here, is the way to go on a more regular basis in future. There is little escaping the fact that this was another disappointing away day for the Reds and ultimately served to exacerbate a dismal away record. But, if Liverpool perform in this manner on a more regular basis – as opposed to reverting to a reserved, defensive style – they are sure to get more positive results.
Man of the Match
Pulled the strings in midfield. Perhaps the most impressive in a run of fine recent performances from the Portuguese. Not deserving of being on the losing side.