Spurs spoil the party and close in on fifth spot
Liverpool 0 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Monday 16 May 2011
It was meant to be the poisoned chalice, the competition nobody wanted to be appearing in next season. But on this showing, you would never have guessed Tottenham were not playing for a place in the Europa League.
European football's second tier tournament it may be, but nothing could disguise Harry Redknapp and his side's delight at beating their main rivals for fifth spot.
If that was not enough, this was the day when Liverpool were meant to be celebrating. Celebrating another shot at Europe, and, more significantly, the return of Kenny Dalglish.
Confirmed as the full-time manager earlier in the week – having served as caretaker since January – the Scot was welcomed by Anfield rising as one. Yet Tottenham were happy to play the party-poopers, Rafael van der Vaart scoring in the ninth minute before Luka Modric converted a controversial second-half penalty to seal Spurs' first Anfield victory since 1993.
Redknapp later revealed the secret behind his side ending their hoodoo, having reminded his players they may be forced to return early from their summer holidays.
"I scared them to death before the game and it did the trick," he said. "We are top of the Fair Play League which means they would come back in two weeks and would be playing again in June. I wonder why Fulham got eight bookings the other night?
"But we are not fighting for the Europa League, we are fighting for fifth to finish as high as you can and win as many games as you can.
"It's not ideal – but if we play in it we will. You play Thursday night and then Sunday. It's a big win for us. We had to win to finish above Liverpool and we've given ourselves a chance now."
Redknapp has spoken of his reluctance to play in next season's Europa League, citing the impact it can have on Premier League form.
But you would not have known that the booby prize was up for grabs given Spurs' application. Perversely, on the day of Dalglish's coronation after penning his three-year deal, it was a man named Rafa who inflicted the early damage.
Man of the match Modric's corner was cleared only as far as the lurking Dutchman, who sent his shot home, via a slight deflection off Glen Johnson.
Anfield was silenced and it took a while before they found their voice. Andy Carroll should have got the home fans singing once again but headed horribly over the crossbar after meeting Martin Skrtel's cross.
A laboured Liverpool looked devoid of ideas and inspiration, so the last thing they needed was a hotly-disputed referring decision to go against them. John Flanagan appeared to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Steven Pienaar but referee Howard Webb claimed the South African winger was shoved over, even if the initial contact looked to be outside the box.
Modric did the rest from the penalty spot in the 56th minute and Liverpool never look like finding a way back with Ledley King, making his first appearance in seven months, defying his chronic knee problem to ensure the shut-out.
Tottenham know a win over struggling Birmingham on the final day will secure their European spot for next season. But Dalglish was left ruing his side's failure to turn up when it mattered most.
"We feel we short-changed the fans by not getting the result," he said. "Maybe it was too much of a fairytale. They started better than we did and we didn't play for 30 to 35 minutes, and then they get the second goal which gives them a foothold. We never played as well as we can and that's disappointing for the players."
On the controversial spot-kick, the Scot added: "I'm not here to sponsor the FA. It's unhelpful to everyone you can't express your true thoughts and officials don't explain their thoughts.
"But we could have been a greater help to ourselves if we started the game better."
Substitutes: Liverpool Shelvey (Spearing, 64), Ngog (Rodriguez, 75), Cole (Carroll, 88). Tottenham Defoe (Van der Vaart, 53), Bassong (Rose, 82), Kranjcar (Pienaar, 90). Booked: Liverpool Flanagan, Suarez. Tottenham Sandro.
Man of the match Modric. Match rating 7/10. Possession: Liverpool 49% Tottenham 51%. Attempts on target: Liverpool 2 Tottenham 4. Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire).
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