The Senegal international, heading for the African Cup of Nations, scored the goal that gave Jurgen Klopp’s team a 2-1 lead with only 18 minutes remaining against the strugglers of Sunderland. It should have been sufficient to guarantee a victory.
But Mane foolishly handled inside the area to present Jermain Defoe with his second opportunity to score a penalty in the 84th minute and earn Sunderland a point in their battle against relegation.
It was the second time in the match Liverpool had relinquished a lead after conceding an earlier penalty that allowed Defoe to cancel out a goal from Daniel Sturridge. But Klopp’s main complaint at the end was about the build-up to Sunderland’s second goal, insisting angrily the free-kick handled by Mane should not have been awarded.
“It was harsh but obviously I have to accept it. It was a penalty, but no free-kick. No free-kick, then there’s no handball,” he said.
“That’s why it’s so hard for me to accept, but I’m a professional. I’m not the best loser in the world and two penalties are not good.”
Klopp was far more downbeat than usual and admitted:”It’s difficult for me today. Usually I would say we could have done better, but I don’t know if we have done better this time. I’ve no idea if we could have done more.”.
He had been far more clear-minded before the start. The majority of Premier League managers would undoubtedly have rested some of those who faced Manchester City in a game of such high intensity 48 hours earlier, but Klopp, not for the first time, chose to be different.
The only absentee was Jordan Henderson, the former Sunderland midfielder who was ruled out because of a heel injury, and Klopp was able to replace him with the firepower of Sturridge. The England striker made the most of his opportunity, particularly in the opening half when he scored Liverpool’s his goal and forced three good saves from keeper Vito Mannone.
Mannone, only playing because of an injury to Jordan Pickford also had to turn over a shot from Georginio Wijnaldum before it dipped under the bar during sustained early pressure from Liverpool.
Mannone was let down, though, by the teammates in front of him when he was beaten in the 19th minute following a corner conceded when Seb Larsson almost slid the ball into his own goal.
Larsson’s relief was short-lived because Dejan Lovren was left in space to hook in a shot that bounced nicely Sturridge, who was unmarked as he headed in from only four yards.
Liverpool must have suspected a victory would now be a formality against a team that averaged less than a goal-a-game in their season of struggle, but Sunderland were level within six minute. There was an element of good fortune since Ragnar Klavan and Wijnaldum appeared to make little contact with Didier Ndong as the midfielder tried to find a way between them.
But referee Anthony Taylor awarded a penalty and Defoe stroked in his 10th goal of the season - and it was almost followed by another from the striker only two minutes later.
He accelerated onto a through ball from Adnan Januzaj and tried to round keeper Simon Mignolet, who did well to divert the ball to Fabio Borini, whose shot was deflected wide. Mignolet also had to make a smart save from Jack Rodwell as Liverpool’s early control evaporated, although Sturridge still posed a threat and twice troubled Mannone before the interval.
Mane, on the fringes of the first-half action, was the pivotal figure after the break when Liverpool ran out of ideas and, following their difficult day against City, the energy needed to find a way through a stubborn and hard-working Sunderland side.
They finally did it in the 72nd minute when Mr Taylor and his officials again played a significant part. Mane looked to be offside when he scored after a corner was headed on to him, but the officials decided it had come off a Sunderland player Mane was to be involved on one more occasion - and this time he presented Sunderland with another equaliser.
He foolishly stuck out an arm when Seb Larsson drilled a free-kick into the Sunderland wall and, with more justification that one the first occasion, Mr Taylor pointed to the spot and Defoe sent Mignolet the wrong way.
Mannone 8; Love 6, O’Shea 6, Djilobodji 5, van Aanholt 6; Ndong 6, Rodwell 6 (Manquillo 65,5), Larsson 6; Borini 7, Defoe 7 Januzaj 7 (Khazri 79,5).
Mignolet 6; Clyne 5, Klavan 5, Lovren 6, Milner 5 (Moreno 46); Can 6, Wijnaldum 6 (Origi 73,5); Mane 7, Lallana 6, Firmino 5; Sturridge 8 (Lucas 80,5).
Anthony Taylor 6