LUIS Suarez edged the battle of the player of the year contenders yesterday as he scored and then earned the match-winning penalty to eclipse Gareth Bale and keep Liverpool’s slim top-four hopes alive.
Scorers: Liverpool: Suarez (21), Downing (66), Gerrard (82pen); Tottenham: Vertonghen (45, 53)
The Uruguayan drew first blood with his 29th goal of the season and, although Bale had a hand in both Tottenham goals, Suarez had the last laugh by winning the spot-kick from which Steven Gerrard scored.
Spurs centre-back Jan Vertonghen scored twice after Suarez had put the home side ahead only for calamitous misjudgements by Kyle Walker and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to gift Stewart Downing the equaliser.
Suarez showed again just how sharp he is in the penalty area with an instinctive first-half finish. Bale’s danger was restricted to crosses and he could not match his rival’s threat in the penalty area.
Jose Enrique held off Walker and slid a perfectly-weighted pass for Suarez to run onto and surprise Lloris at his near post.
Bale’s response was to plant one left-footed shot into the Kop and then drive an angled right-footed effort wide
Suarez had been receiving particularly close attention from the visitors without much interest from referee Mike Oliver, but when Gerrard challenged for a header with Tottenham’s flying Welshman, the Reds captain was penalised by a free-kick in the centre-circle.
Bale – playing mainly through the middle – went off after treatment which allowed him to rejoin play on the right wing and this contributed, in some part, to the equaliser on the stroke of half-time. The ball was worked out to him on that flank and he curled a left-footed cross over the head of Jamie Carragher, on his 500th league appearance, for Vertonghen to get in front of Glen Johnson and head home.
Liverpool were aggrieved they did not get a penalty late in the half when Philippe Coutinho appeared to be pulled back by Walker as he tried to get on the end of a cross.
Bale played a part in Tottenham’s second just after the break when his free-kick was weakly headed down by Carragher to Vertonghen, who fired home.
A trademark driving run by the Wales international saw him pick out Gylfi Sigurdsson in acres of space at the far post, but the Icelander’s shot was deflected onto a post by Johnson.
Liverpool had lost all their composure and their disposition was not helped by Brad Jones flapping at a Moussa Dembele shot, but it was Tottenham’s nerves which faltered next.
Walker’s attempted back-pass/crossfield ball from the right succeeded only in drawing Lloris out of his goal to clear. When he failed, Downing nipped in to drill a shot through the legs of Vertonghen on the line.
The pace of the game went up a notch and Sturridge headed into the side-netting while Bale nodded wide before another dreadful backpass, this time by Jermain Defoe, forced Benoit Assou-Ekotto to barge into Suarez.
Gerrard stepped up to slot home his ninth of an increasingly profitable campaign.