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Steven Gerrard struck a late penalty for Liverpool to give them a 3-2 win in an enthralling encounter with Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield.
After Luis Suarez had opened the scoring with a clever shot on 21 minutes, Jan Vertonghen headed Spurs level in first-half injury time. The Spurs defender put the visiting side ahead eight minutes into the second half but two defensive errors undid Andre Villas-Boas’s team.
Kyle Walker’s misplaced back-pass could not be gathered outside his area by Hugo Lloris and, with the Spurs goalkeeper stranded, Stewart Downing gathered the loose ball and fired Liverpool level. With eight minutes remaining, Jermain Defoe’s poked the ball back towards his goal, where Suarez picked it up, only to be bundled over by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Gerrard slotted home the winner from the spot.
The three points lifted Liverpool two places to sixth, two points behind Arsenal, having played a match more. Spurs remain third, but could be overtaken by Chelsea if they win their match in hand.
With the match billed as a title match between Suarez and Gareth Bale in the stakes for player of the season, the Liverpool forward edged it because he scored and earned the match-winning penalty to eclipse the Spurs player and keep Liverpool's slim top-four hopes alive.
The Barclays Premier League's leading scorer drew first blood with his 29th of the season - and 22nd in the top flight - and, although Bale had a hand in both of Tottenham's goals, the Uruguay forward had the last laugh by winning the late spot-kick from which Steven Gerrard scored.
Vertonghen had scored twice after Suarez had put the home side ahead only for misjudgements by Kyle Walker and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to gift Stewart Downing the equaliser. Suarez showed again just how sharp he is in the penalty area with an instinctive first-half finish and while Bale's danger was restricted to crosses he could not match his rival's threat in the penalty area.
The Wales player drilled in an early swerving free-kick which Brad Jones, back in the side because of Jose Reina's calf injury, batted away but had to cede centre-stage to Suarez. Philippe Coutinho combined well down the left with Jose Enrique, starting the move with a backheel. The pair then exchanged passes before Enrique, holding off Walker, slid a perfectly weighted pass for Suarez to run on to and surprise Lloris at his near post with the outside of his right foot.
Bale's response was to plant one left-footed shot into the Kop and then drive an angled right-footed effort wide. Gylfi Sigurdsson missed a better opportunity from Bale's flick as he shot wide of Jones' right-hand post with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Bale, playing mainly through the middle, went off for treatment after being clattered by Steven Gerrard, which allowed him to rejoin play on the right wing and this contributed, in some part, to the equaliser on the stroke of half-time. The ball was worked out to him on that flank and he curled a left-footed cross over the head of Jamie Carragher, on his 500th league appearance, for Vertonghen to get in front of Glen Johnson and head inside the far post.
Bale played a part in Tottenham's second just after the break when his free-kick was headed down by Carragher to Vertonghen who fired home.
After a trademark driving run by the Wales international he picked out Sigurdsson in space at the far post but his shot was deflected on to a post by Johnson. Liverpool were wobbling but were rescued by a defensive error from Spurs. Walker's attempted back-pass from the right succeeded only in drawing Lloris out of his goal to clear. When he failed Downing nipped in to advance on goal and drill a shot through the legs of Vertonghen on the line.
The pace of the game went up a notch and Sturridge headed into the side-netting and Bale nodded wide before another misplaced backpass, this time by Jermain Defoe, forced Benoit Assou-Ekotto to barge into Suarez. Gerrard stepped up to slot home his ninth of an increasingly profitable campaign.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "Our character in the game was outstanding. Earlier on in the season that game might have tipped against us but the longer we've worked together now the more cohesion we've shown to keep going. We've shown great character and mentality and against an outstanding Tottenham side it was a great victory for us.
"There was a period at the beginning of the second half [where Spurs dominated]. We normally control the games better than we did today. That was the reason we made the change early in the second half - to get our control back and get three in midfield.
"You're at the business end now. This has been our focus and we've got real good momentum now. We've got our own performance targets and we're working towards them. I'm delighted for the players because they've put so much into that today."
Spurs head coach Andre Villas-Boas: “A couple of mistakes at the end cost us the game but we can't be too negative on what we have done. Hopefully this is a reminder for us but we'll try and go on another 12-game unbeaten run.
"The chance for [Gylfi] Sigurdsson [to make it 3-1] was a big, big chance. But we did ever so well to come into the game, played well and managed to create some good opportunities. But we couldn't control the game in the manner that we should have.
"The boys did well apart from a couple of mistakes that we committed. But that was a good performance. We are confident we can put our strengths back together and go on another run. We've suffered set-backs before. But we've jumped out of them and it's a wonderful opportunity for us to put ourselves back on track."
|16 Mar 2013||v Southampton (A)|
|31 Mar 2013||v Aston Villa (A)|
|07 Apr 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|13 Apr 2013||v Reading (A)|
|21 Apr 2013||v Chelsea (H)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Newcastle (A)|