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Liverpool's title dream in tatters

Date

Football columnist, The London Telegraph

View more articles from Henry Winter

Heartbreak: Dwight Gayle scores the equaliser for Crystal Palace.

Heartbreak: Dwight Gayle scores the equaliser for Crystal Palace. Photo: AFP

Mad all over. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. Just as Liverpool were cutting back Manchester City's superior goal difference, giving hope to their title dream, they went into meltdown, and their supporters looked on stunned by the destruction of their defence and their title hopes.

Attack, attack, attack? Crystal Palace certainly did. For 55 minutes, it was Liverpool fans chanting "attack, attack, attack". Joe Allen opened the scoring, Daniel Sturridge added the second before Luis Suarez the third, making it 31 goals in the Premier League this season for the new Footballer of the Year.

Those Liverpool fans with long memories will have recalled that they were also leading 3-0 against Palace after 55 minutes on Sept 12, 1989, at Anfield and went on to win 9-0. The manager that day, Kenny Dalglish, was looking on here. At 3-0 up, Liverpool could have closed up shop, taking the points, but they chased a fourth. Brendan Rodgers commanded it and they were caught out on the counter time and again. Palace raided through to score through Damien Delaney and Dwight Gayle twice, three goals in nine minutes. If the noise was deafening here, the volume would have been as loud amongst City fans.

A tearful Luis Suarez is consoled by his captain Steven Gerrard.

A tearful Luis Suarez is consoled by his captain Steven Gerrard. Photo: AFP

Liverpool went top but were devastated. Steven Gerrard looked close to tears. Suarez hid his face in his shirt. It was such a contrast to earlier on. Even before Allen's goal set Liverpool up for a convincing lead to eat away at City's goal-difference advantage, Liverpool had been lively. From the first whistle they were at Palace, hardly pausing for breath, just wanting goal after goal. Scarcely had the hosts' eagle stopped swooping on the pitch, then Liverpool were trying to climb back on the perch they were knocked off by Manchester United in the early 90s.

Suarez, newly installed as Footballer of the Year, almost scored but Julian Speroni blocked. From Steven Gerrard's corner, Mamadou Sakho headed down and over. For all Liverpool's momentary disappointment, the opportunity wasted by Sakho at least highlighted the surprising gaps in Palace's defence at set-pieces.

Liverpool kept up the pressure. Allen lifted through a long ball, a huge delivery upfield that dropped over Palace's startled defence, that fell towards the area. Glen Johnson had read Allen's intentions, speeding into the box, meeting the ball with a header over the advancing Speroni. Brendan Rodgers was off his seat, holding his arms up, believing the ball would drop into the goal but it carried over.

Jubiliation: Gayle is embraced by his teammate Yannick Bolasie.

Jubiliation: Gayle is embraced by his teammate Yannick Bolasie. Photo: Getty Images

Palace were occasionally on the front foot. Gerrard had to charge back to deal with Jason Puncheon and then Adrian Mariappa. When Lucas gifted the ball to Joe Ledley, Palace charged upfield and Simon Mignolet saved well from Yannick Bolassie. Liverpool were determined to reclaim the leadership of the Premier League from City and took the lead after 18 minutes. Sturridge's shot deflected wide off Damien Delaney, leading to a Gerrard corner.

Ledley was culpable, failing to respond to Allen's clever run, taking him away from goal and then back in, now unmarked, now able to meet Gerrard's corner. Only 5ft 6in, Allen made short work of the header, placing it past Speroni. It was the least the visitors deserved. Jon Flanagan and particularly Johnson were pushing on. Allen was a real creative force, influential with his passes over small distance and long, also winning it back. Lucas does not quite seem to fit into the system, particularly in this more advanced role. Raheem Sterling was at the tip of the diamond, playing behind Suarez and Sturridge.

Palace refused to be overawed. Their fans were brilliant, the noise starting in one area, down by the corner in the Holmesdale Road stand, and swiftly spreading around the ground. Even losing, Palace fans were deafening. Mile Jedinak, Joel Ward and Delaney, amongst others, have stood up for Palace during difficult times. Marouane Chamakh has been frequently kicked, and got an early whack from Sakho here, but kept going, providing a forward clearing house. Chamakh was also deputed to drop back and try to stop Gerrard building.

Tears in the stand: A Liverpool fan is disbelief after Crystal Palace's comeback.

Tears in the stand: A Liverpool fan is disbelief after Crystal Palace's comeback. Photo: Getty Images

Chamakh almost created a chance, passing to Puncheon who was closed down by Gerrard. Palace were suddenly busy, worrying Liverpool.

The visiting fans had been chanting "attack, attack, attack", showing their desire to whittle down City's superior goal difference, but there was plenty of defending to do. Mignolet saved from Puncheon and then did magnificently to throw up his right hand and divert Jedinak's shot over.

Liverpool responded, chasing that second before the break.

A wonderful flowing move, from Gerrard to Allen to Suarez was ended by Speroni's excellent save at the near post. It was only a matter of time.

Palace emerged early for the second half, warming up by running around some cones but soon being caught cold. Suarez could have had a penalty when impeded by Scott Dann but Mark Clattenburg waved play on, even booking him for remonstrating. Liverpool would not be distracted, quickly scoring two more within three minutes as the SAS went to work.

After 53 minutes, Sturridge's deflected shot sneaked past the wrong-footed Speroni. Then Suarez scored a gem, exchanging passes with Sterling, before drilling his 31st Premier League goal of the season past Speroni. Liverpool were not even bothering to celebrate, racing back to the centre-circle, eager to get on with addressing those goal difference arrears.

Instead of adding to their lead, Liverpool saw it attacked by Palace, who suddenly had second wind, partly because of Pulis's subs had energized the side. With 11 minutes remaining, Delaney let fly, the ball clipping Johnson and continuing into the net. Palace raised the volume even more. Two minutes later, Bolassie broke down the left, flying past Johnson and squaring to Gayle, who made it 2-3.

There was more. Gayle again blasting through, shredding Liverpool's title dream, delighting City and Palace fans alike. "3-0 and you ******* it up".

The Telegraph, London

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