Liverpool suffered more Selhurst Park misery as struggling Crystal Palace came from behind to clinch a shock 3-1 win over the lacklustre Reds on Sunday.
Brendan Rodgers’ side saw their hopes of winning the Premier League title effectively ended when they conceded three late goals in a 3-3 draw at Palace last season and they fared even worse on their first return to south London since that painful experience.
Rickie Lambert had given Liverpool an early lead with his first goal since his pre-season move from Southampton.
But Neil Warnock’s team hit back through Dwight Gayle’s first half equaliser and Joe Ledley put Palace in front with 12 minutes remaining before Australia midfielder Mile Jedinak’s brilliant free-kick sealed the points moments later.
Liverpool, disjointed going forward and careless in defence, could have few complaints about a dismal result that left them without a win in four league matches and with only one victory in their last seven games in all competitions.
The Reds are languishing in 12th place, only four points above the relegation zone and two points ahead of Palace, who climbed out of the bottom three with their first win since late September.
Liverpool’s last visit to Selhurst had been filled with tears and torment, but this was a much more alarming performance that suggested they won’t have to worry about holding their nerve in the title race for this season at least.
Lambert and Adam Lallana had been at Southampton together when Liverpool fell apart at Palace last season and, unaffected by any psychological scars, they combined to give Liverpool the perfect start in the second minute.
Lallana spotted Lambert’s run in behind Palace defender Martin Kelly and picked him out with a slide-rule pass that the England striker controlled with one touch before flicking a clinical finish past Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni.
That should have been the signal for Liverpool to take complete control, yet they allowed Palace to regain a foothold and, in the process, exposed a shaky defence which had only kept two clean sheets this season.
– Tentative –
Palace refused to be rattled by Lambert’s opening salvo and drew level in the 17th minute thanks to a predatory finish from one of their main tormentors last season.
With rain lashing down and Liverpool’s defenders backing off, Yannick Bolaise’s long-range strike skimmed off the slick turf and when Simon Mignolet could only push it on to a post, the rebound fell perfectly for Gayle to convert his fourth goal in three games against the Reds.
Lambert, starting in the absence of injured duo Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli, has found it hard to replicate the prolific Southampton form and, despite his goal, he still looked tentative when he headed Steven Gerrard’s free-kick over from close-range.
Bolasie was proving a real menace to the Liverpool defence and he twisted into space for a fierce shot that Mignolet palmed away at full-stretch.
Lambert was off-target with another tame header and Gerrard smashed a powerful effort over, but it was Palace, inspired by Bolasie’s pace and power, who finished the half on top.
Rodgers’ men still couldn’t find the cutting edge needed to break down Palace’s well-organised rearguard in the second half.
Gerrard couldn’t keep his long-range effort on target and Martin Skrtel sliced wide after Speroni’s weak punch before Rodgers sent on Fabio Borini for Lallana in the final 20 minutes.
Liverpool last left Selhurst with a win back in December 1997 and they were destined for more angst in south London when Bolaise skipped away from Dejan Lovren’s weak challenge and whipped over a cross for the unmarked Ledley to side-foot home in the 78th minute.
Raheem Sterling, anonymous for long periods, appealed in vain for a penalty as Liverpool tried to respond, but Palace captain Jedinak put the result beyond doubt in the 81st minute when he curled his free-kick into the top corner from 25 yards.