Ben­teke brace sees Palace leave An­field with cru­cial win

Al­lardyce on verge of an­other es­cape as Liverpool’s top four hopes take big blow

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - ANDY HUNTER at An­field

The Kop gave Chris­tian Ben­teke a round of ap­plause when he ex­ited the fray in the 88th minute at An­field. The Crys­tal Palace for­ward left his for­mer club bruised and bat­tered on his re­turn to Liverpool, scor­ing twice in a mer­ited win for Sam Al­lardyce’s side, and may have had the same im­pact on Jür­gen Klopp’s Cham­pi­ons League as­pi­ra­tions.

“You must be sick of us,” the Palace fans chanted af­ter Ben­teke’s dou­ble took the Ea­gles closer to Pre­mier League safety and left Liverpool at risk of be­ing caught by Manch­ester United in the race for a top four fin­ish. Palace’s third con­sec­u­tive league win at An­field pun­ished a medi­ocre Liverpool dis­play and could have dam­ag­ing reper­cus­sions for Klopp’s re­main­ing tar­get. Dejan Lovren was also forced off af­ter tak­ing an ac­ci­den­tal blow to the face from Ben­teke’s el­bow.

It had fallen to Philippe Coutinho to ig­nite a slow-burn­ing con­test with a touch of bril­liance, sweep­ing a free-kick from at least 25 yards over the Palace wall and just in­side Wayne Hen­nessey’s right hand post, al­though the goal­keeper’s po­si­tion­ing in­vited trou­ble in the pres­ence of the gifted Brazil­ian.

Cheap equaliser

Liverpool had re­quired some­thing spe­cial to break a strong Palace side and lift their own un­cer­tain start. It was there­fore in­fu­ri­at­ing for Klopp when the home side con­ceded a cheap equaliser just as they ap­peared to be tak­ing the game un­der con­trol.

Coutinho was cen­tral to Liverpool’s bright­est mo­ments. His per­fect re­turn ball to James Milne rs ent the left-back through on the Palace goal and it took an ex­cel­lent chal­lenge by Ja­son Pun­cheon on the edge of the penalty area to halt him. Emre Can then squan­dered a clear op­por­tu­nity to dou­ble Liverpool’s lead when Milner re­leased Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum to the by­line and he cut the ball back from the left for his fel­low mid- fielder. Can ar­rived on cue but his mis-hit shot veered to­wards the cor­ner flag.

Al­lardyce’s team had of­fered lit­tle in the fi­nal third aside from a mazy run and low shot from Ben­teke that sailed wide of Si­mon Mig­no­let’s left post. Their per­for­mance and threat im­proved con­sid­er­ably once Wil­fried Zaha and An­dros Townsend re­verted to their nat­u­ral wings, hav­ing started on the right and left re­spec­tively, and in Ben­teke they had a for­ward with the aware­ness and mo­tive to cap­i­talise on the nerves that crept into the Liverpool dis­play.

Con­trolled fin­ish

The Bel­gium in­ter­na­tional, booked for div­ing un­der slight con­tact from Dejan Lovren in­side the area, brought Palace level when the home de­fence was caught out by a sim­ple clear­ance down the right flank from J oel Ward. Yo­han Cabaye re­acted quicker than Lovren to the de­fender’s ball and steered an invit­ing first time cross along the face of Mig­no­let’s goal. The un­marked Ben­teke found the roof of the net with a con­trolled fin­ish.

Ben­teke grabbed his sec­ond when Liverpool’s weak­ness at de­fend­ing set pieces, cor­rected to good ef­fect at West Bromwich Al­bion a week ago, reared its ugly head once more. Townsend’s sec­ond-half cor­ner evaded both Roberto Firmino and Pun­cheon at the near post, sailed be­hind Joël Matip and in front of the Palace cen­tre-for­ward, who con­verted with a div­ing header.

Anx­i­ety was pal­pa­ble around An field be­fore Ben­teke struck, with Palace dis­play­ing greater com­po­sure in pos­ses­sion and Liverpool toil­ing in at­tack. James Tomkins blocked a goal-bound shot from Coutinho af­ter the Brazil­ian had stayed on his feet af­ter a clumsy chal­lenge from Martin Kelly in­side the penalty area. Lu­cas Leiva sliced over and Klopp did all he could to bol­ster Liverpool’s for­ward op­tions, but to no avail.

PHOTOGRAPH: PETER BYRNE/PA

– (Guardian ser­vice) Chris­tian Ben­teke’s brace saw Crys­tal Palace come from be­hind to sink Liverpool at An­field.

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