A Toby twist in the title tail

Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld’s despairing effort is not enough as the ball crosses the line for Liverpool’s late winner yesterday at Anfield. Picture: PA.

The 24th change in top place in the Premier League did not come without the predictable healthy dose of nerve-shredding drama as Mohamed Salah’s 90th minute header forced Toby Alderweireld to turn the ball into his own goal, gifting Liverpool a sorely-needed victory.

Cue Anfield celebrating as if they had actually ended that 29-year wait for that elusive league title although, with Manchester City due to play their game in hand against struggling Cardiff on Wednesday, lead change number 25 should only be a couple of days away.

But what relief, what drama and what an understandable reaction from supporters all too aware that margin for error is slender in this of all years and a draw that seemed inevitable as the game ticked into the final minute of regular time could have proved terminal.

It was not. Thanks, largely, to Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris who saved poorly from Salah’s six-yard header, after Trent Alexander-Arnold had crossed a cleared corner, and succeeded only in pushing the ball against Alderweireld and into his own net, failing to stop the ball as it dribbled over the line.

What a sickener for a Tottenham side that has now collected just one point from its last five league games and who could actually have won the game themselves just five minutes earlier when Moussa Sissoko broke clear on goal with team mate Heung-min Son.

The duo had only Virgil van Dijk - and keeper Alisson - to beat but the Dutch defender made a brilliant decision, ensuring the ball remained with Sissoko, rather than the more clinical South Korean, and, sure enough, the Spurs man produced a woeful shot over the goal.

Dele Alli also threatened moments later as Spurs continued a spirited second-half comeback that threatened to turn the game, and the title race, on its head after Liverpool had dominated the first.

Spurs looked like they might be swept aside in a blistering opening half-hour from the home side, the only surprise by the end of that period being that Liverpool’s only led by a solitary goal.

Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to play with three centre-backs seemed solid enough, based on the 2-1 beating they took in the home fixture at Wembley in September.

But the space down the flanks allowed Alexander-Arnold and, especially, Andy Robertson to find room and wreak havoc going forward, the latter delivering the cross that led to Roberto Firmino’s 16th-minute opener.

There were still question marks abut the defending - especially with three of them supposedly filling the middle but Firmino timed his run to perfection, sprinting between Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen before

rising to head in emphatically from eight yards.

Spurs had actually launched a couple of promising early attacks, with some shaky decision making from Alisson in the home goal adding to a nervy air of uncertainty around Anfield.

But that goal breathed some relief into the stadium, the pressure lifted, for the time being at least, and if Alexander-Arnold’s terrific 20-yard volley had flown the right side of the post, instead of narrowly out for a goal kick, moments later, the afternoon might have been far more comfortable.

Still, Liverpool pressed, with Robertson again starting a move from the left that ended with Georginio Wijnaldum laying the ball up for Sadio Mane to curl a shot just wide, the first of a couple of such efforts in the opening period from the Senegal striker.

Alexander-Arnold also struck the near post from a corner and Sanchez put in a vital tackle on Mohamed Salah but, with Alisson’s increasingly odd performance continuing in the Liverpool goal, Spurs began to sense there might be a route back into the game.

The lively Rose delivered a couple of promising left-wing crosses and Christian Eriksen teed up Alli whose firm strike never really threatened the goal as it flew high and wide.

But the interval allowed Pochettino to rectify his tactical errors of the first half, three at the back turned into a flat back four and Spurs instantly benefited from that change.

After 55 minutes, Spurs finally threatened the Liverpool goal in anger, the excellent Danny Rose finding Harry Kane in space and the England forward forcing Alisson into a save which fell kindly for Christian Eriksen whose follow-up was blocked by Robertson.

Spurs were building momentum, their creative players, anonymous in the first half, starting to make an impact as the game wore on and when Kane showed great speed of thought in taking a quick 69th minute free-kick, Spurs were on the way to equalising.

A fast crossfield pass played in Kieran Trippier who sprinted down the wing, crossed into the area for Eriksen who moved the ball on,

selflessly, to Lucas Moura.

The Brazilian benefited from an intelligent run from Heung-Min Son, who took Joel Matip out of the game, and swept the ball in from six yards.

With a little over 20 minutes to go, the season was potentially on the line - for Tottenham also - and the game did not disappoint.

Alexander-Arnold’s cross-shot was tipped over by Lloris, Firmino could not quite scramble in from point-blank range and Divock Origi’s free-kick was deflected behind in the build-up to yet another grandstand finale in this most memorable of title races.

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3):

Alisson 5; Alexander-Arnold 7, Matip 7, Van Dijk 8, Robertson 7; Milner 5 (Fabinho 77, 7), Henderson 5 (Origi 77, 7), Wijnaldum 6; Salah 7 (Lovren 90), Firmino 7, Mane 6. Subs (not used) Mignolet, Keita, Lallana, Shaqiri.

TOTTENHAM (3-5-2):

Lloris 4; Alderweireld 6, Sanchez 6 (Son 69, 7), Vertonghen 6; Trippier 7, Eriksen 7 (Llorente 90), Sissoko 6, Alli 6, Rose 8; Kane 7, Moura 7 (Davies 82). Subs (not used) Gazzaniga, Wanyama, Foyth, Skipp.

Referee:

M Atkinson 7

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