Late penalty secures win for Liverpool
Liverpool's 10 men secured a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace with a late penalty from Christian Benteke after goalkeeper Alex McCarthy gifted Roberto Firmino an equalising goal with a horror slip in the second half.
It was Firmino's poor defending and reluctance to block Joe Ledley's shot that led to Palace taking the lead and, after James Milner was sent off for a second yellow card, close to a first win in the Premier League in 2016.
An aimless attack and little pressure led to McCarthy - surprisingly selected over Julian Speroni in the absence of the injured Wayne Hennessey - making the costly error.
That led to Palace's winless run in the league, which dates back to December 19, continuing when Benteke was awarded a controversial stoppage-time penalty after going to ground despite minimal contact from Damien Delaney.
The victory, which takes Liverpool up to seventh, maintains their pursuit of a top-four finish and leaves 15th-placed Palace at greater risk of joining the battle against relegation.
Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho - unquestionably Liverpool's greatest threats - were among their substitutes as Jurgen Klopp retained much of the team which on Wednesday so impressively defeated Manchester City 3-0.
Connor Wickham and Hennessey each failed late fitness tests, so Palace manager Alan Pardew recalled Emmanuel Adebayor and McCarthy - also replacing Jordon Mutch for Joe Ledley and Martin Kellly with Pape Souare - and surprisingly retained the 4-4-2 formation he has recently experimented with.
He said he does not believe his team have been distracted by their progress in the FA Cup - they on Friday visit Reading in the quarter-finals - but their run means that argument is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.
It perhaps helped they were hosting a team whose priority should be the Europa League, and who even after Wednesday's win remain so inconsistent at each end of the pitch that it was little surprise further poor defending risked undermining them.
The dangerous combination of Adebayor and Yannick Bolasie - a frequent tormentor of Liverpool - threatened early and forced two saves from Simon Mignolet in the first half, first when Adebayor fed Bolasie from close range and then when Bolasie found Adebayor, who from the left of the area curled towards the near post.
Jordan Henderson watched a powerful shot strike Souare in the face, and Divock Origi curled a threatening effort over the crossbar, but each were little more than optimistic, which could not be said about Ledley's chance early in the second half.
Liverpool were struggling to clear a 48th-minute corner when Firmino sliced the ball to Ledley, who with his left foot shot powerfully into the bottom right corner - while watching Firmino avoid blocking the ball - for his first goal of the season.
That Milner were soon sent off after a second yellow card for a foul on Wilfried Zaha - he had been booked shortly before half-time for another on Yohan Cabaye - then appeared to give Palace the platform to finally secure that elusive league victory.
Instead, a goalkeeping error - and from the less likely of the two candidates, given Mignolet's erratic nature - allowed Firmino to redeem himself.
Under little pressure, McCarthy slipped when attempting a routine clearance from a pass back to send the ball into the Brazilian's path, from where he calmly finished into a near open goal.
With their one man advantage, Palace had time to secure a second goal but they simply do not score enough.
Alberto Moreno had already struck the post late on when Benteke theatrically went to ground despite minimal contact after an innocuous challenge from Delaney.
Referee Andre Marriner did not award anything until the intervention of his linesman, and Benteke calmly finished from the spot to secure Liverpool's win.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Should play palace with 10 men more often!!!!!!brilliant 3 points.Well done all.We were well overdue that one there" - former Liverpool striker John Aldridge ( @Realaldo474).
Alex McCarthy - 5
Joel Ward - 6
Scott Dann - 6
Yohan Cabaye - 7
Yannick Bolasie - 6
Wilfried Zaha - 6
Mile Jedinak - 6
Pape Souare - 7
Emmanuel Adebayor - 7
Damien Delaney - 6
Joe Ledley - 7
Dwight Gayle - 6 (for Ledley 80 minutes)
Jordon Mutch - 6 (for Cabaye 68)
Bakary Sako - 6 (for Adebayor 80)
Simon Mignolet - 6
Dejan Lovren - 6
James Milner - 4
Roberto Firmino - 7
Jordan Henderson - 5
Mamadou Sakho - 5
Alberto Moreno - 5
Adam Lallana - 6
Emre Can - 5
Divock Origi - 5
Jon Flanagan - 5
Kolo Toure - 5 (Firmino 86 minutes)
Christian Benteke - 6 (Origi 79)
Philippe Coutinho - 5 (Can 58)
Pape Souare: The Crystal Palace defender had a strong game against Liverpool and kept Adam Lallana in check. Souare made some key tackles in and around the area as well as pushing up when the Eagles went on the attack.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Liverpool appeared to be dead and buried after James Milner's sending off whilst 1-0 down but the Reds were gifted an opportunity back into the game through an Alex McCarthy mistake. The Eagles goalkeeper slipped whilst going to kick a routine ball and it fell straight to the feet of Roberto Firmino who slotted into an empty net to level the scoring.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Just minutes after Jurgen Klopp made his first change of the afternoon, Milner was sent off for his second yellow card of the afternoon. The Liverpool manager chose to keep things as they were for 10 minutes before deciding to keep the system as they were but with Christian Benteke's fresh legs instead of Divock Origi. Benteke's first touch was a shot on goal which was saved by McCarthy but the substitution was an important one as he slotted home a controversial penalty with just minutes left.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
It did not take long for Crystal Palace fans to start moaning about some important decisions going against them. Just 10 minutes into the game Lallana received the ball whilst in an offside position but the linesman failed to pick it up much to the Eagles' fans annoyance. Shouts of "You don't know what you're doing" soon reverberated around the ground.
WHO'S UP NEXT
Reading v Crystal Palace (FA Cup, Friday 11th March)
Liverpool v Manchester United (Europa League, Thursday 10th March)
Benteke felt there was no doubt about the penalty award being the correct decision.
"To be sure I think he touched me, otherwise I don't go down," Benteke told Sky Sports 1.
"I think the referee knows better than us and he took the right decision."
Benteke had started the game on the bench and was ready when called upon.
" This is part of football," he said. "You have to be ready when the manager needs you.
"I tried to do my best today and we won so we can be happy."
Defender Dejan Lovren said the victory was deserved based on Liverpool's performance.
"We stepped up and we showed our skills and our character and I think it was a deserved win today," he said.
Looking forward to European action against Manchester United on Thursday he added: "We will have a tough game on Thursday again in the Europa League.
"It's a good game for us, for our confidence and for all the supporters who came here today, and we need to continue like that."