Wednesday 20 November 2019

Party poopers Palace foil fairytale end for Gerrard

Liverpool 1-3 Crystal Palace

Steven Gerrard acknowledges the acclaim of the Liverpool fans during his final game at Anfield
Steven Gerrard acknowledges the acclaim of the Liverpool fans during his final game at Anfield

Andy Hunter

That is the trouble with a meticulously prepared send-off; there's always an uninvited guest who spoils it. Steven Gerrard's farewell to Anfield ended emotionally and in defeat as Crystal Palace produced an exemplary away display to ruin the Liverpool captain's 354th and final outing on home soil. It was Jeremy Goss ruining the Spion Kop's last stand in 1994 all over again.

Gerrard rallied late on as he tried to rescue Liverpool one last time but to no avail. The 34-year-old's shots sailed high and wide, prompting mocking tribute from the Kop, whereas Jason Puncheon, Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray found the target to remind all that they should never have been overlooked in the build-up to this fixture. Murray put the game beyond Brendan Rodgers' team in the 90th minute, scoring from the rebound of his own penalty kick after Lucas Leiva was adjudged to have fouled Zaha.

Events before kick-off indicated Palace were not exactly at the forefront of Liverpool's minds as Gerrard ended his warm-up by conducting a brief television interview in front of the Kop and both teams formed a guard of honour for the captain.

The game itself, however, must have been a release for the 34-year-old and his team-mates after a week of intense scrutiny.

The home side took the contest to Alan Pardew's side from the opening whistle but the relaxed, ceremonious atmosphere was reflected in the sky above Anfield where a plane flew carrying a banner that read: "In Rodgers We Trust". Liverpool's previous home game, of course, had witnessed a very different fly-over when the manager looked up at a banner that read "Rodgers Out Rafa In". Anfield's aerial tit-for-tat demonstrated one thing: some people have far too much time and money to waste.

Liverpool began purposefully without seriously threatening Palace who, following a tactical switch by Pardew, when he switched Yannick Bolasie to the right and abandoned his initial 4-4-2 formation, were the more incisive team in attack. But that move came after the visitors had undermined a composed opening by handing Liverpool the opening goal. The present arrived from the former Liverpool player and Liverpool fan in the heart of the Palace defence.

Martin Kelly received possession near the halfway line and, under no pressure, sold Scott Dann short with a poor pass behind his central defensive colleague. The Palace defender slipped as he tried to retrieve Kelly's pass and Lallana took full advantage, sweeping an excellent finish into the top corner and seeking out Gerrard for the celebration of only his fifth goal of an injury-hit season.

Pardew and Palace responded impressively. The visitors should have been level within two minutes when Bolasie exploited his new-found freedom on the right and swept a low cross along the six-yard box. Emre Can intercepted but could only turn the ball into the path of Joe Ledley who blazed over from the edge of the area.

Undeterred, Palace kept coming and kept missing clear-cut chances. But they finally gained their merited reward two minutes before the interval after Bolasie left Can trailing and was fouled 20 yards from goal by the German under-21 international. The free-kick was well positioned for Puncheon's accurate left foot and the 28-year-old curled a fine set-piece kick through the Liverpool wall and into Mignolet's bottom left-hand corner.

The men in yellow showed more urgency in the second half too and were incensed when FA Cup final referee Jon Moss ignored two strong penalty appeals against Martin Skrtel in quick succession. First, Bolasie's cross struck the Liverpool defender on a raised arm. Lee was then sent tumbling by a clip from the Slovakia international. Moss, who denied Philippe Coutinho a penalty in the first half, was unmoved and ordered Pardew to cease his understandable protest in the technical area.

Still Palace poured forward with Bolasie tearing the Liverpool defence - and Can in particular - to pieces. The winger set up Lee for another clear opening that he sliced wide and struck the bar having cut inside on to his favoured left foot.

By that point the visitors were ahead and truly spoiling the Gerrard party, albeit via an offside goal. Bolasie was inevitably to the fore, exchanging passes with Dann on the right, cutting into the area and delivering an inviting cross to the back post where Zaha was on hand to convert.

The former Manchester United player had only been on the pitch 22 seconds and his first touch proved telling. To Gerrard, it was utterly deflating.


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