LONDON // As one barren spell ended, another was extended. Christian Benteke and Crystal Palace were twinned in enduring wretched runs. Liverpool’s costliest player has had too few moments to treasure in an increasingly harrowing Anfield career. His injury-time winner provided one and furthered the problems at Selhurst Park.
When Alan Pardew’s team beat Stoke City in December, Palace were level on points with Tottenham Hotspur. A dozen league matches later, they are yet to taste victory again. Rather than the top four, their concern now is the bottom three.
Benteke, meanwhile, had gone 13 games without a goal and suffered an ignominious descent down the striking pecking order. He may have only been introduced because Jurgen Klopp was saving Daniel Sturridge for Thursday's Europa League clash against Manchester United. It seemed to sum up his Liverpool career when he had a chance with his first shot and steered it straight at goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.
But, like Liverpool, Benteke played with the spirit to compensate for their one-man deficit. Deep into added time, he surged past Damien Delaney, his boot flicking against the Irishman’s knee. “I think he touched me,” said the Belgian, his doubt offering an explanation why Palace were so aggrieved when referee Andre Marriner eventually pointed to the penalty spot.
“Blimey, that’s tough,” Pardew said. “He is looking for it. Our player is pulling out of it.” Benteke, unruffled by the Palace protests, nervelessly rolled it past McCarthy. Liverpool, for the first time under Klopp, had three successive league wins. Palace have been a bogey team for Liverpool but these days Pardew’s side struggle to overcome anyone.
They will rarely have a better chance. They were a goal ahead, when Joe Ledley drilled a shot through a crowded penalty area, and a man up, after James Milner was sent off. This was an illogical encounter when Liverpool were better with 10 men than 11 and where Milner’s trademark common sense deserted him.
Already booked for fouling Yohan Cabaye, he collected just the second red card of his career for a rather needless foul on Yannick Bolasie. It was a sign of the winger’s capacity to fluster Liverpool. Bolasie, the man who ruined Steven Gerrard’s Anfield farewell and helped inflict Klopp’s first defeat, tends to be a scourge of theirs.
He could have scored as Palace made a bright start. So could Emmanuel Adebayor, who headed against the bar. Liverpool, in contrast, did not record a shot on target until after Milner’s exit. Their first of note brought a goal that came gifted. McCarthy slipped and sliced a clearance straight to Roberto Firmino, whose seventh goal in eight games made him Liverpool’s top scorer. “Sometimes you need a bit of luck,” Klopp said.
And rather than settling for the point, they surged forwards. Alberto Moreno rattled the post. Klopp brought on Benteke. “It was a perfect change, he really worked hard,” said the manager. “Nobody thought that we would try to score another goal, but Christian had another idea.”
He had his own input in the comeback, sending on the rested Philippe Coutinho and switching to a back three. “We had to change the system and had to try to stay offensive,” Klopp said. “We knew it was risky but at the end we forced it.”
And Palace left feeling aggrieved while accepting they were complicit in their downfall. “I feel like we’ve been robbed a little bit but again maybe we shot ourselves in the foot a bit,” Pardew said.
Benteke has rarely shot into opponents’ nets of late. This was a welcome exception. Obituaries of his Anfield career are being written but Benteke said: “I am going to fight until the end.”
He, and Liverpool, certainly did.
Man of the match: Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport