Harry Houdini magic casts spell on Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Liverpool 1
Bottom against top was as one-sided as might have been expected for 70 minutes in sodden north London on Saturday evening, but Liverpool somehow managed to turn victory into defeat and in doing so, throw away the Premier League leadership.
Chasing a sixth successive win, they led almost from the start through Dirk Kuyt, only to concede an unlucky own goal by Jamie Carragher with 20 minutes to play and then suffer a first defeat since March when Roman Pavlyuchenko scored in added time.
So Harry Redknapp, who had brought on the Russian striker at half-time, was able to add another three points to the four from his first two games, including that extraordinary late draw at Arsenal in midweek; not to mention adding to his burgeoning reputation as a combination of Harry Houdini and King Midas. He had written in the match programme that "Life is all about confidence and if you do not have it, you will not deliver." In seven days and no more than half a dozen training sessions he has managed to install that quality into a demoralised squad as well as benefiting from some equally invaluable good fortune to take Spurs above Bolton and Newcastle at the wrong end of the table.
As all the old Tottenham anthems – those dodgy FA Cup final records included – rang out afterwards from the neighbouring pub, Redknapp said: "You need a bit of luck. They're a very, very good side and we couldn't play through them in the first half. So we stuck two up front and hung in there. It's a fantastic result and I've hopefully made them believe in themselves again."
Rafael Benitez looked as shell-shocked as his players had done as they left the pitch. "I can't believe we've lost," he said, in which he was hardly alone. "We were controlling everything and to concede two is difficult to explain." Whereas Redknapp's substitutions struck gold again, the one criticism that might have been levelled at Benitez was withdrawing Robbie Keane – who had received a mixed reception all evening – for Ryan Babel midway through the second half, when Liverpool were making chance after chance. The game changed from that moment on.
Redknapp had made four changes from the Emirates, one of them enforced late in the day when Jermaine Jenas was injured in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Didier Zokora. For whatever reason, Spurs were unable to carry on the momentum from the astonishing last few minutes of the previous game. Indeed, they conceded a goal within barely 100 seconds. Liverpool won a throw on the right which the vulnerable Benoit Assou-Ekotto failed to deal with. Keane took advantage, executing a deft turn to feed Kuyt, who slashed a fierce shot across Heurelho Gomes high into the far corner of the net.
"I thought my God, we're in trouble today," Redknapp said, and things might soon have grown worse. In the fifth minute the outstanding Steven Gerrard had a free-kick punched out by Gomes for a corner that he took himself, Darren Bent slicing it against the near post as he miscued his clearance. Any latecomers would have been particularly annoyed as that was just about the sum of the action untilalmost half-time, when Luka Modric, a peripheral figure, found room for a shot through a crowd of red shirts that Pepe Reina, who must have seen it late, did well to keep out.
Redknapp reacted with a double-change at the interval, sacrificing Assou-Ekotto and Jamie O'Hara for Alan Hutton, at right-back, and Pavlyuchenko as much-needed support for Bent. The defence did not look any more solid and within five minutes the error-prone Gomes under-hit a short clearance to Ledley King that Keane intercepted, feeding Gerrard for a chip on to the top of the crossbar. The goalkeeper did better in finger-tipping Gerrard's shot on to a post after a deflection off King; Xabi Alonso should first have scored a rare headed goal when left unmarked at Gerrard's free-kick.
From Tottenham, with Modric eventually replaced by Aaron Lennon, there was nothing of note until an equaliser arrived completely against the run of play. David Bentley took a right-wing corner and Carragher, rising highest, nudged it into his own net. Confidence, confidence; Spurs found a new lease of life and Pavlyuchneko wasted a glorious opportunity after Reina punched out Bentley's cross to him. Just as the fourth official was indicating four minutes of added time, Reina pushed away Bentley's low shot, Bent cut the ball back and Pavlyuchenko knocked in his second goal in three games under the new regime. Funny game, football.