Liverpool’s hopes of qualifying for Europe were dealt a major blow as they went down 2-0 at home to Tottenham on Sunday afternoon to see Harry Redknapp’s men leapfrog them into fifth place in the league.
It was a below par performance from Kenny Dalglish’s men, who’s only change to the side that beat Fulham 5-2 at Craven Cottage on Monday night was to bring in Andy Carroll for the injured Raul Meireles, moving Dirk Kuyt back to a deeper position.
The Reds fell behind on 20 minutes when Rafael van der Vaart chested the ball down on the edge of the area, unleashing a dynamic shot that took a slight deflection off Glen Johnson and beat Pepe Reina.
Liverpool never found their stride throughout the game, becoming increasingly frustrated by a number of puzzling decisions from referee, Howard Webb.
This was epitomised when Webb awarded the visitors a penalty ten minutes into the second half. A soft decision, deeming John Flanaghan’s tussle with Steven Pienaar as a foul.
Luka Modric stepped up to convert for Spurs, who are now in position to seal 5th place with a win at home to Birmingham on the final day of the season.
Bad refereeing decisions or not, it wasn’t a great Liverpool performance – losing at home for the first time since Kenny Dalglish took over as caretaker boss in January.
Liverpool go to Aston Villa in their final game next Sunday. A draw could be enough to replace Spurs in 5th should Harry Redknapp’s men falter at home to the Brummies, who themselves are in need of points to avoid relegation.
Despite the defeat, Liverpool ended the match with a lap of honour, thanking the fans for their support and loyalty throughout one of the toughest seasons for the club in many years.
Match Report from BBC Sport
Rafael van der Vaart chested down the ball and sent a dipping 20-yard strike into the Reds net to put Spurs ahead.
Andy Carroll headed a gilt-edged chance high and was punished when Luka Modric scored a penalty for the visitors after John Flanagan’s foul on Steven Pienaar.
It was a controversial decision but Spurs were good value for their win.
In the first game for Liverpool since manager Kenny Dalglish had his temporary deal turned into a three-year contract, the Reds struggled and stuttered to a first home league defeat under the Scot.
Tottenham, by contrast, put in a controlled and composed performance, which they completed with the type of end product that has been missing in recent months and has cost them repeating their top four finish of last season.
And, if Spurs manager Harry Redknapp had stated his reluctance to play in next season’s Europa League because of the impact it has on a top-flight campaign, it was not matched by his players at Anfield.
Instead, it was the lacklustre home players who seemed more determined to avoid Europe’s less prestigious competition.
The two teams had gone into the game travelling in opposite directions in their rollercoaster seasons, with Liverpool on an upward curve of 10 wins from 14 games and Spurs plummeting with one win from 13 outings.
But it was the visitors who quickly got into their stride and made a mockery of the statistics as they seized control of the game before they took the lead after nine minutes.
A Modric corner was only headed out to Van der Vaart and, after controlling the clearance with his chest just outside the area, the Dutchman sweetly struck the ball before it could bounce as he sent a dipping shot into the far corner.
It was a goal reminiscent of Van der Vaart’s form in the first half of the season before, like Spurs, his form dipped.
In their run of one win in the last 13, playmaker Van der Vaart and strikers Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko have scored only 11 goals between them and Spurs 14 in all.
But Van der Vaart’s goal at Anfield was reward for his side’s fluency and fortitude, while the Reds struggled to impose themselves.
The frustration of the home side was emphasised when striker Luis Suarez flicked a kick at Spurs defender Michael Dawson and escaped with a yellow card from referee Howard Webb.
The Merseysiders belatedly and briefly raised themselves late on in the opening half when Carroll was presented with the type of chance you would expect him to put away.
Martin Skrtel clipped a cross to the far post for the powerhouse Reds forward, who mistimed his close range header horribly high.
Van der Vaart was forced off injured early in the second half before Spurs added to their lead shortly afterwards when Webb awarded a questionable penalty to the visitors for right-back Flanagan’s foul on Pienaar.
Liverpool will argue whether it was a foul as well as whether it was in the area but Modric stepped up to send keeper Pepe Reina the wrong way from the spot as he confidently extended Tottenham‘s lead.
A laboured Liverpool rarely looked like adding to their 13 goals in their previous three games as Spurs eased to their first league win at Anfield since August 1993.