Liverpool claim runners-up spot with win over Spurs

Liverpool 3 Tottenham 1

Pa
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:28
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Liverpool claimed runners-up spot in the Barclays Premier League and denied Tottenham European football after a season that produced an unbeaten home league record for the first time in 21 years.

Their unbeaten home stretch was extended to 30 games as Sami Hyypia bid a tearful farewell to Anfield after 10 years at the club.

The ovations were for the veteran Finn and a Liverpool side who had pushed Manchester United all the way in the title race.

Their goals came from Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and an own goal from Alan Hutton, with Robbie Keane scoring for Spurs on his return to Anfield.

Spurs, even though Fulham lost at home, could not take advantage and will not be in the Europa League next season.

Boss Rafael Benitez left out two defenders who had played in the win at West Brom last week but veteran Hyypia was not in the starting line-up.

A packed Anfield, who sung the Finn's name at every opportunity, would no doubt have liked to see the 35 year-old on from the start before he leaves to join Bayer Leverkusen but it was not to be that romantic a day.

Out went Alvaro Arbeloa, Lucas Leiva and Emiliano Insua, with Fabio Aurelio, Xabi Alonso and Martin Skrtel back in the starting XI.

Spurs were without defender Jonathan Woodgate (groin) and Tom Huddlestone (knee), while Roman Pavlyuchenko was back on the bench. Alan Hutton, Gareth Bale and Didier Zokora returned.

Hyypia's name echoed around the stadium beforehand and there was a new, giant flag in his honour on the Kop.

But, ever the perfectionist, Benitez used both Daniel Agger and Skrtel in central defence with Jamie Carragher at right-back, as Liverpool tried to pin down the one point needed to be certain of runners-up spot.

They started at great pace, with Steven Gerrard firing over with a hooked shot from 25 yards, while Benayoun fired over from close in after Dirk Kuyt's header down.

Spurs were organised and controlled. Ledley King at the back even out-paced Torres on one run, while Jermain Defoe searched for the gaps at the other end.

Torres sparked into life when he surged through from midfield, got himself clear in the box but saw his attempt to steer a shot wide of Heurelho Gomes thwarted by a defiant challenge by Jermaine Jenas.

But he did not have to wait long for the breakthrough. Kuyt's cross from the left sailed towards the far post where Hutton was patently the wrong side of Torres.

The Spaniard rose to head in off the underside of the bar - his 50th goal for the club - with Gomes not even getting off the ground.

Spurs then lost Jenas - David Bentley coming on as a 39th-minute substitute - with the midfielder still suffering from the injury he had sustained in stopping Torres earlier.

Defoe then beat the offside trap to race clear but Jose Reina managed to block the chipped shot with his body, just outside the area.

King was felled by a fierce Skrtel drive in the box and Alonso tried to beat Gomes from the half-way line - a trick shot he has succeeded with in the past but not this time.

Spurs responded with a curling Bale free-kick that was pulled down by Reina. Then another Skrtel drive following a corner deflected inches wide.

But Liverpool finally got their second when Benayoun's cute pass set up Kuyt for a shot from just inside the box. It looked to be going just wide but Hutton's outstretched foot turned the effort past Gomes.

The calls for Hyypia's involvement increased from the Kop but it was Albert Riera who was the first Liverpool substitute, in place of Kuyt after 66 minutes.

Gerrard then hit the far post from an acute angle. Hyypia at last came off the bench for a warm-up.

There is still plenty of speculation about Alonso's future but he had been outstanding throughout and forced Gomes into a flying save to his left.

Pavlyuchenko then replaced Defoe after 70 minutes for Spurs but Liverpool were in full flow now and Gerrard was next to go close with a curler from the edge of the box.

The Kop were now baying for Hyypia but, after 77 minutes, Robbie Keane - on his return to Anfield - was put clear by Luka Modric to calmly slot in only his fifth goal for Spurs since returning to White Hart Lane from Anfield in January.

Spurs then brought on another striker, Darren Bent, for Bale while Liverpool replaced Torres with David Ngog.

But Liverpool's worries were ended when Gerrard slipped the ball to Benayoun, who eased his way into the box to clip the third past Gomes.

The "we want Sami" barrage was booming again. Surely Benitez could risk it now. Vedran Corluka was booked for a foul on Gerrard and at last Hyypia was allowed to take off his training top for one last cameo appearance.

There was seven minutes to go, Gerrard was the man taken off and he made sure he put his captain's armband onto the giant defender as he came off.

Hyypia almost scored with a typical flying header from Aurelio's corner and at the end he was carried off by his team-mates at the end of a career that makes him a Liverpool legend.

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