Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers in need of answers as Crystal Palace hurt Reds again
Liverpool's season fast turning into a damp squib as palace pile on agony in the rain
In south London rain yesterday, Brendan Rodgers will have been hard pressed to recall a time when his Liverpool team bus would be applauded into Anfield by huge throngs of fans who believed they were on the brink of a historic achievement. That dream started to unravel at Selhurst Park in May and six months on they returned to the scene of that catastrophe to discover just how far they had fallen.
The answer was bleak for Rodgers, who looked a very different manager to the one who spent so much of last season on the touchline smiling and applauding a sparkling title challenge.
Soaked and despondent yesterday, he did not even use his full complement of substitutes, and when he came into his post-match press conference after a third straight league defeat, he pulled no punches.
This was, he said, "nowhere near the level expected" from a team "low on confidence", but it was the manner of the Liverpool manager that told its own story. He looked shattered. A young coach who knows how much a part confidence has played in his team's rise, this time he could offer no more assurances - just the promise that he would work hard at finding the solutions.
The suggestion from Jamie Carragher in the Sky Sports studio was that it might take more than hard work. He said that Liverpool needed better players. They are only five points off Manchester United in fourth place and yet, with the way they are playing now, it feels like it could be three times that.
As for Crystal Palace, a goal behind within two minutes, this was a first league win in six that always seemed to be coming, even if the final two goals from Joe Ledley and then Mile Jedinak arrived in the final 12 minutes. Neil Warnock's two midfield dogs of war finished Liverpool off but it was the game's outstanding player, Yannick Bolasie, who found the space for the breakthrough that led to the second. Rodgers did not have a player to match him.
Palace were tenacious; Liverpool too often timid. In the aftermath, Rodgers defended Raheem Sterling but the timing of the 19-year-old's current dip in form is deeply unfortunate for their manager. Philippe Coutinho barely left a mark on the game while Adam Lallana, who had a good first half, faded badly after the break and was substituted.
Liverpool still rely so much on Steven Gerrard and this was not one of his best afternoons. His shooting was off-beam and his occasional vulnerability was typified by a moment in the second half when he was robbed by Jason Puncheon. Against a team as full of running as Palace, who were dangerous on the counter-attack, the former England captain often looked isolated.
Nowhere were Liverpool's inadequacies expressed more than in the way they conceded the killer second goal. Simon Mignolet booted the ball straight into touch. From the throw-in Bolasie left Dejan Lovren face down on the wet turf, having easily out-muscled the centre-half by the touchline. What Lovren was doing out there, only he knows. In the area, Ledley finished neatly and there was only going to be one outcome to the game.
It had all begun so well for Liverpool, given the lead by Rickie Lambert in only his second Premier League start of the season. Lambert's first goal for the club should have been an occasion of great joy for the Liverpudlian but not much has gone well for him this season and this was no different. Other than a first-half header from Joe Allen's cross, he barely threatened again.
"You can score too early, you know," Warnock said later, and the problem for Liverpool was that was truly their best moment.
They struggled all afternoon with Bolasie, a great left-wing galloper, who can cover the length of the pitch as quick as anyone in the league. The equaliser came on 17 minutes when his shot came back off a post and Dwight Gayle reacted sharply, beating Martin Skrtel to the ball and hitting a shot that went in off Mignolet.
It was the first time that Gayle had scored since the famous game against Liverpool in May last season and in fact five of his nine career Premier League goals have come against the same club.
It would be fair to say that it was low on quality or incident until the late goals with Jedinak, more than just a tackler with a folk musician's beard, hitting a beautiful free-kick inside Mignolet's left-post with a big right to left swing - the best moment of individual skill in the match.