Spurs fight back twice but suffer late heartbreak as Balotelli hits Liverpool winner
21:55 10 February 2015
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Tottenham twice came from behind to equalise against Liverpool at Anfield – only to suffer late heartbreak as substitute Mario Balotelli scored his first Premier League goal for the hosts and secured a 3-2 win.
Brendan Rodgers’ Reds, who have now won their last five games against Spurs, took a 15th-minute lead through Lazar Markovic, but Harry Kane levelled with his 23rd goal of the season for the Lilywhites.
The hosts regained their advantage in the second half through a Steven Gerrard penalty but, again, Mauricio Pochettino’s visitors fought back to equalise eight minutes later through Mousa Dembele.
It seemed that Spurs were going to end their losing run against Liverpool and earn a valuable point in the top-four fight. However, Balotelli came off the bench to score the winner with seven minutes of normal time left.
It meant Liverpool secured another 3-2 home win over Spurs – having also done so in March 2013 – and they are now just one point behind Tottenham, who have dropped to sixth place in the table, two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, who leapfrogged their north London arch-rivals with a 2-1 victory over Leicester at the Emirates.
Pochettino named an unchanged line-up from the side that had faced Arsenal in the north London derby on Saturday, when Spurs had fought back from behind to win late on.
Kane had an early appeal for a penalty as Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet dive at his feet, missed the ball and grazed the Spurs striker, but referee Phil Dowd waved away his shout.
The hpsts went on to dominate and create a flurry of chances – aided by some poor Spurs passing. Ryan Mason’s backward pass freed Daniel Sturridge, whose shot was saved by Hugo Lloris, and Gerrard then whipped a free kick over the bar. Jordan Ibe crossed for Markovic, who teed up Sturridge, and the striker’s low effort was brilliantly saved by Lloris.
The Reds went on to take the lead after quarter of an hour though. Sturridge was allowed to collect a long punt from Mignolet and, although Jan Vertonghen slid in, his tackle only gave the ball to Markovic, who advanced and saw a low left-footed effort creep past Lloris, who should have done better on that occasion.
Spurs rallied and Kane freed Christian Eriksen on the left of the box, with the Dane’s low strike being well blocked by the sliding Emre Can.
But, at the other end, Nabil Bentaleb played another suicidal pass in behind his own defence, gifting Sturridge another run at goal and forcing Eric Dier to get back and make a fine block.
Only 20 minutes had passed in a breathless opening spell, with Spurs looking very open and vulnerable against a Liverpool side who had scored 12 goals against them in the last three meetings.
However, Tottenham equalised in the 26th minute with a superb team goal, finished by their prolific man of the moment Kane. Erik Lamela and Eriksen combined with a snappy one-two on the edge of the box to find the 21-year-old, who let the ball run through his legs and left his marker Mamadou Sakho for dead before firing through Mignolet, who, like Lloris, should probably have saved the shot.
Spurs were level but they still looked like they could concede at any moment against Rodgers’ side, who were playing with a tricky 3-4-2-1 formation and asking Tottenham plenty of questions.
Ibe in particular was getting plenty of space on Liverpool’s right flank and he was allowed to run infield and shoot at Lloris. Then, at the end of the first half, he beat Danny Rose again and delivered a low cross. Vertonghen’s attempted clearance hit Mason and fell to Sturridge, whose volleyed backheel hit the post.
Liverpool regained their lead eight minutes after the break from the penalty spot. Rose slid in on Sturridge in the box, missed the ball and fouled his man, giving Gerrard the chance to step up and beat Lloris.
Tottenham nearly hit straight back as the ball broke to Lamela on the edge of the D, but his vicious drive was brilliantly saved by Mignolet. Moments later Kane won the ball in Liverpool’s half, leaving Spurs two on one, but Lamela passed to the right to Mousa Dembele, who wasn’t there, rather than freeing Mason, who was livid.
It proved not to matter though because the visitors equalised again anyway just after the hour-mark. Eriksen forced Mignolet into a diving save with a trademark free-kick and Kane – who was marginally offside - sent a first-time, bouncing cross into the goalmouth, where it hit Dembele in the chest and cannoned into the net.
Alberto Moreno drew a low save from Lloris at the near post, while Pochettino introduced Paulinho and Nacer Chadli, but it looked like the game was heading a draw – until the 83rd minute.
Poor defending from Spurs on their left flank allowed Liverpool substitute Adam Lallana to drift into the box unmarked, and he delivered a low cross for another Liverpool substitute Balotelli, who finished at close range to strike a big blow in the battle for Champions League qualification.
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose, Bentaleb, Mason (Paulinho 69), Lamela, Dembele (Soldado 85), Eriksen (Chadli 80), Kane
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