Liverpool fail title test
Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Liverpool
On a day when Liverpool had every chance to confirm their title credentials were genuine, Rafael Benitez's men fuelled the belief of those who claim they remain merely pretenders.
A series of less than impressive and occasionally fortunate wins have propelled the Reds to the top of the Premier League, yet the cynics have continued to believe the side who have not won the league title that was once their own in 18 years were not a serious threat to Manchester United and Chelsea over the long haul.
Victories against both the title favourites should have silenced the doubters who believed their reliance on skipper Steven Gerrard and striker supreme Fernando Torres left them open to a collapse if the football fates turned against them.
Yet as Benitez's slick and hungry side took to a rain lashed White Hart Lane pitch for the late kick-off on this Saturday's Premier League fixture list, they looked ready to make a statement of intent as they zipped the ball around and out muscled opponents who were still on a high after their sensational 4-4 draw against North London rivals Arsenal four days ago.
It took a little over two minutes for Liverpool to confirm they meant business in North London as Robbie Keane's neat lay off gave Dirk Kuyt the chance to shoot at goal and under-fire Tottenham keeper Heurelho Gomes was easily beaten as the shot flew into the roof of the net.
Liverpool made a stunning start and the barely let Tottenham settle for most of the first half. Full of energy and drive, the wins collected by title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea earlier in the day had clearly given them all the incentive required as they snapped into challenges and threatened to overwhelm a Tottenham side who looked ready to crack every time the Red machine cranked into gear.
Benitez's Liverpool teams have always had the spark of magic from the familiar sources to bail them out of trouble when the pressure was applied, but the tangible difference with this team seems to be they have found a way to believe in themselves in their domestic league. Even in defeat, the second half of this game confirmed that Liverpool's title challenge is still alive and their fate will be decided by their ability to kill off a side when they have them at their mercy. Their chances in this game were plentiful.
Gerrard so nearly put the game beyond Spurs shortly after the restart as he crashed a shot off the woodwork via the fingertips of Gomes. Just for once, the flapping keeper had earned his Spurs. Then the all-action Liverpool skipper hit the bar again as a woeful pass from Gomes found Gerrard via a neat Keane pass. His chip over the stranded Spurs keeper was so nearly perfect, but it bounced back off the crossbar again. Xabi Alonso was next to go close as he missed with a free header in the box and the Tottenham defence that is being undermined by the failings of keeper Gomes looked ready to cave in at any moment.
At that point, a Tottenham equaliser seemed implausible as Liverpool looked ready to wrap up the points, but a rare foray forward saw Redknapp's men snatch the goal that lifted their flagging spirits. A well floated set play invited a Tottenham head to attack it, but it was Carragher who inadvertently directed the ball towards goal and keeper Pepe Reina had no chance as the ball flew past him.
While some manager are brilliant, others are lucky and Redknapp has done enough to suggest he has some of both qualities on his side after a week that has seen him drag Tottenham from off the floor and towards respectability.
When he had asked the fourth official how many minutes would be added on at the end of the game, he clearly had an eye on collecting a point he would have been chuffed with. Then came a moment that suggested their Premier League misfortune was at an end as Tottenham substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko snatched a winner to send White Hart Lane into ecstasy.
"I think the last two Tottenham games prove that luck is important in this game," said Benitez, with his press conference being conducting amid Tottenham fans singing Chas and Dave songs of celebration in the bar outside. "In the first half of this game, they had nothing to trouble us and then we had four chances in the second half to finish the game.
"It would have been a simple victory if one of those opportunites had gone in. We were sitting on the bench saying how well we were playing as it was just a case of finding the second goal. In the end, it never came and you end up wondering how you lost. This is a blow, but we have to show the right response now. There is another big game on Tuesday and then we have to make sure we have the right attitude for the next Premier League game."
Redknapp was quick to concur with Benitez as he accepted fortune was his side's best player as he made it seven points in an amazing first week as Spurs boss. "You needed a bit of luck in this game," he admitted. "We just didn't have a forward pass to make as Liverpool closed down space so well and even when we went with two up front for the second half, they had so many big chances to finish the game off.
"I think I have got the lads believing in themselves again. Liverpool don't generally get beat when they go ahead and it was very hard to play through the team we were up against today because they are so good. You could see why they have not been beaten all season because they played some fantastic stuff at times.
"At least this win gets us off the bottom of the table. You just need to get among footballers when they are down. If you hit a bad shot on the first tee at the start of a round of golf, you need someone to tell you it will improve. All I have done this week is tell the lads they are good players and it has been an amazing week."
Liverpool will not need to be told that this was a game they should have won with ease and real title challengers would not have allowed such a game to slip through their grasp. Once again, they need to prove they have what it takes to end their title drought.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Steven Gerrard Rarely a game goes by when the Liverpool skipper does not win this award and he drove his side on with another all-action display. He is always such a threat in the attacking third.
MISPLACED JEERS: A section of Tottenham fans felt the need to boo and heckle Robbie Keane as he made his return to White Hart Lane. After scoring over 100 goals and giving his heart and soul for the club over many years, it was a less than charitable action. Of more concern must be Keane's woeful form in the red shirt. He was given a decent ovation when he was substituted by Rafa Benitez.
TACTICAL GENIUS: Harry Redknapp has been hailed as a master for the way he has revived Spurs in double quick time, yet he insists his decision to throw eventual match winner Pavlyuchenko into the fray was not a stroke of genius. "I just told his interpreter to give him a message at half time," said Redknapp. "Go on and run about if you please. There were no great tactics coming from me!"
FACE IN THE CROWD: Former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein made an appearance at White Hart Lane. Could it be that he is giving up on his former club after Halloween horror week?
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Ironically, this may have been one of Liverpool's better displays of the season as they have had luck on their side in a few of their late victories so far. On this occasion, all the fortune was snapped up by miracle working Redknapp and time will tell whether this is a pivotal day in the Reds title challenge.