Beyond dispute, however, was the fact that Liverpool had overcome the dismissal of James Milner to claim a valuable victory that will only bolster confidence ahead of this week’s Europa League meeting with Manchester United.
Having recovered from the double blow of falling behind to Joe Ledley’s 49th-minute goal and Milner’s sending off 13 minutes later, Liverpool appeared destined to settle for a point after Roberto Firmino’s 71st-minute equaliser.
That would have been the least Jurgen Klopp’s team deserved, having raised their game after being reduced to 10-men to dominate the final half hour against a Crystal Palace side searching for a first win in 12 league games. There was a final twist, though, when Benteke tumbled under a challenge from Damien Delaney.
Referee Andre Marriner initially ignored claims for a penalty, revising his decision following guidance from his assistant, prompting an angry reaction from the home side. Benteke kept his composure, claiming the points with virtually the last kick.
Initially, it appeared as though Cork man Delaney had not touched the striker and that the Belgium international was guilty of a flamboyant dive. Television replays, however, showed Delaney’s knee made contact with the Liverpool man’s foot, shifting the debate to whether contact was sufficient to bring the player down.
Pardew clearly thought not. “If you’re the referee and see the centre-half pulling out of the challenge, you don’t give the penalty,” said the manager. “And I don’t think he did. The linesman assumes that little touch is a penalty. He makes the most of it.
“That touch doesn’t warrant the dive he makes, and it’s the dive that makes the linesman’s mind up. It’s a worrying issue in the game. I’ve heard Jamie Carragher saying there was contact and he was within his rights to go down. Jamie Carragher is saying that? He’s an ex-pro. Come on. I’m frustrated with both Benteke and the referee. You try to be fair, to say the right thing to your players, and send out the right message. That touch doesn’t warrant that dive. If that touch warrants a collapse like that, then wow, we really need to say: ‘Come on.’”
Benteke’s own assessment was hardly convincing. “I think he touched me, otherwise I don’t go down,” said the striker. “The referee knows better than us and he took the right decision. You have to be ready when the manager needs you and I tried to do my best today.”
Klopp, though, was more strident in his defence. “If you run and you get this touch, you fall down. Try it,” said the Liverpool manager. “In my opinion, there was more than enough of a touch.”
Of more concern to Pardew was the way his side failed to make more of a one-man advantage having already taken the lead when Ledley latched onto a half-cleared corner and sent a left-foot shot past Simon Mignolet.
Milner was dismissed for a clumsy challenge on Wilfried Zaha having earlier been booked for a foul on Yohan Cabaye. But instead of deflating the visitors, Liverpool were inspired and began moving forward with more conviction, although they were gifted the equaliser when Palace keeper Alex McCarthy slipped as he attempted to clear Ledley’s back-pass, directing the ball straight to the feet of Firmino.
Palace’s fragile confidence was exposed and Liverpool eventually took full advantage. “We played with more focus with 10 men,” said Klopp, “We started well, but we didn’t have a shot at goal. It was not bad, but not good enough. Usually the plan was to play with more direction in the second half, but then we conceded the goal and the red card. Then we had nothing to lose. When you’re 1-0 down, you have to be greedy.”
Klopp added: “I’ve never had a bench with this much quality in 15 years as a manager. We needed a good team because Crystal Palace are really difficult to play. Now we’ve taken the points back.”
McCarthy 5; Ward 6, Dann 7, Delaney 7, Souare 6; Zaha 7, Jedinak 7, Cabaye 6 (Mutch 69, 6), Ledley 7 (Sako 79, 6); Bolasie 8, Adebayor 7 (Gayle 79).
Speroni, Lee, Chamakh, Kelly.
Mignolet 7; Flanagan 6 (Coutinho 61, 6), Lovren 8, Sakho 7, Moreno 5; Henderson 6, Can 7; Milner 5, Firmino 9 (Toure 86, 6), Lallana 7; Origi 6 (Benteke 77, 7)
Ward, Clyne, Sturridge, Allen.