Crystal Palace vs Liverpool match report: Christian Beneteke penalty saves 10-man Reds to pile misery on Eagles

Crystal Palace 1 Liverpool 2

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From a draw that would have counted as a moral victory, Liverpool’s 10 men lost the moral high ground and gained a win in the most dubious of circumstances. Substitute Christian Benteke, receiving the merest of touches in the last minute of added time from Damien Delaney’s knee – not a trip, as required by the laws of the game – went to ground and then stood up to roll in the penalty awarded by a furiously flagging assistant referee. 

It would have been perfectly acceptable justice had the striker knocked in one of the two chances that fell to him in his 10 minutes on the field after replacing Divock Origi, for Liverpool reacted superbly to James Milner’s sending off with half an hour to play.

Rightly sensing that Palace would be nervous hanging on to their lead for a first league victory since mid-December, the visitors went for the jugular, benefiting from a howler by recalled goalkeeper Alex McCarthy 10 minutes after Milner’s red card. It was just the manner of the winning goal that left a bad taste. 

Palace, sliding from fifth place at the turn of the year to 15th, must feel most things are going against them, although they are not helping themselves. Denied that long overdue victory by Sunderland’s late equalising goal in midweek, they never looked like the side with the extra man. 

Just when they finally have a striker scoring goals, in Connor Wickham – four in the past two games – he was out injured. Yannick Bolasie proved a good partner for Emmanuel Adebayor, who hit the crossbar early on, but Wilfried Zaha had one of his days when the tricks did not come off and a telling final ball failed to materialise. 

Crystal Palace players celebrate Joe Ledley's opening goal against Liverpool

In a game that started and finished at full pelt, falling away somewhat in between, Liverpool were solid at the back, if lacking inspiration further forward. They were indebted, too, to Simon  Mignolet on an afternoon of contrasting fortunes for the two goalkeepers.

In the first quarter of an hour the Belgian went down bravely to save from Bolasie, who had been played in by Adebayor during a classic  Palace counter-attack. Mignolet then kept out Adebayor’s low curler that was creeping inside the near post, but was beaten when the striker’s header from a cross by left-back Pape Souaré came back off the bar. 

Jordan Henderson, clattering Bolasie on the touchline right in front of an irate Alan Pardew, and Milner, late on Yohan Cabaye, both received deserved yellow cards from referee Andre Marriner but the Liverpool captain trod more carefully after that than his more experienced England colleague. 

After Joe Ledley had put Palace in front with a low drive just inside a post, for his first goal in 13 months, Milner lost the ball and recklessly dived in on Zaha. For a player sent off at the far end of Selhurst Park it is a long and lonely walk to the tunnel. 

James Milner is shown a second yellow card to be sent-off during Liverpool's win over Crystal Palace

Liverpool now made all the chances, short as they had been of them previously. Roberto Firmino’s shot at  McCarthy in the 65th minute was arguably their first on  target and, shortly afterwards, Origi squeezed another effort wide after a cut-back by  Adam Lallana.

The goalkeeper, back in the team for the first time since September because of an injury to Wayne Hennessey, had his moment to forget in the 72nd minute when slipping as he cleared Ledley’s backpass, sending the ball straight to a grateful Firmino, who knocked it back past him. 

Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring the equaliser for Liverpool against Crystal Palace

Benteke probably ought to have scored with his first touch as Dejan Lovren headed down a corner to him, but there was insufficient power in the shot. Left-back Alberto Moreno showed him the way with a thunderous drive from 25 yards that hit the inside of a post, at which point Liverpool looked happy with an honourable draw and Kolo Touré  was sent on in an effort to secure it. 

There was still time for Philippe Coutinho to feed Benteke for another shot at McCarthy and then, with four minutes of added time almost all over, came the decisive moment. Delaney, as Pardew, his manager, claimed, genuinely appeared to be pulling out of any challenge on Benteke, aware of what the consequences could be.

Christian Beneteke is tripped by Crystal Palace defender Damian Delaney

He was all the more horrified to see referee Marriner have a long think and then indicate a penalty that the substitute rolled in with the utmost calm for his first goal since 30 December, putting Liverpool just six points behind fourth-placed  Manchester City. 

The two teams will therefore turn to cup football this week in different moods. Pardew can only hope for a change of fortune in the FA Cup sixth round at Reading on Friday, while Jürgen Klopp claims to have the best range of substitutes he has had in 15 years ahead of the Europa League tie with Manchester United that starts at Anfield the previous night.