Liverpool suffered their fourth straight defeat in all competitions on a sullen Sunday afternoon in South London.
First minute aside, the Reds put in an awful performance that was duly punished by Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace side, who evidently had far more desire than the visitors to address their recent poor run with a confidence boosting victory.
Rickie Lambert opened the scoring with his first goal for Liverpool only a minute in, but Dwight Gayle, the Reds’ nemesis in the 3-3 draw on the penultimate match day of last season that effectively extinguished their title hopes, levelled soon after.
Then, in the closing stages silly defensive errors meant that the Merseysiders conceded two avoidable goals in quick succession, as Ledley and Jedinak consigned their opponents to another confidence crushing defeat at Selhurst Park. It was a frustrating continuation of the miserable form that Liverpool had displayed entering into the international break.
With Sturridge and Balotelli both injured, Rickie Lambert was given a rare run-out as Liverpool’s lone striker. Sterling played in a central role behind the 32-year old, flanked by Coutinho and Lallana, while Allen and Gerrard sat in front of the back four, although they provided little protection to a defence that needed all the help it could get.
Surprisingly, Liverpool began the game in the perfect manner, netting with their first attack on goal, as Lallana and Lambert exploited their knowledge of each other’s games built up during their time at former employer Southampton. The former sent a fantastic pass through to the latter, who evaded the attention of ex-Red Martin Kelly, controlled the ball exquisitely and scored coolly.
|Lambert was delighted to get off the mark for Liverpool|
It was Lambert’s first goal for the club and Lallana’s first assist, perhaps revealing how they have both struggled to settle on Merseyside, although Lallana did pick up an injury immediately upon arrival at Anfield and Lambert has been starved of game time as Rodgers has arguably been too patient with the misfiring Mario Balotelli.
Frustratingly, there was not enough evidence of fighting spirit from Liverpool, despite Joe Allen’s blood stained shirt following a cut to his head, and their lead only lasted 15 minutes. Man of the match Yannick Bolasie, who put in a dynamic performance and tormented Javier Manquillo, smashed a shot against the post from the edge of the box. Following in, Gayle reacted quickest to side-foot the ball against the helpless Mignolet and into the net.
|Four of Gayle's nine Premier League goals have come against Liverpool|
It was the sort of unlucky bounce that you always seem to be on the wrong end of when things aren’t going your way, but Gayle must also be given credit for gambling on the ball breaking to him. It is highly doubtful whether the languid Balotelli would have displayed similar desire and effort in the same circumstances.
Dangerous and unpredictable, Bolasie continued to pose the biggest threat to Liverpool. As Neil Warnock commented after the game, Palace’s number seven doesn’t even know himself what he’s going to do next, so it was a nightmare for Liverpool’s defence to try and work out how to combat him.
Mignolet was required to produce a good save to turn away his effort, which bounced in front of the Belgian, on the half hour mark, and the 25-year old Frenchman went close to netting on two further occasions before the break.
First, Manquillo had to dive in to deflect his goal-bound strike over the bar after he’d stormed forward tremendously as part of a Palace counter-attack and then played a clever one-two with Puncheon to put himself in on goal. Puncheon found Bolasie again in injury time, negating the presence of Manquillo with a magnificent pass, but this time Bolasie’s powerful shot from a tight angle flew over the bar.
|Bolasie was brilliant|
At the other end, Lambert headed Allen’s decent cross over the bar and Gerrard smashed a 30-yard strike just over the bar as he attempted to roll back his glory years, but, for all their possession, Liverpool’s patient approach was yielding less in the way of goalmouth action than the hosts’ more direct style of play.
Little changed after the break; both sides, suffering a dearth of confidence, seemed uninspired and unsure as to how to win the match. Liverpool looked particularly unconvincing in front of goal, as Skrtel sliced off target after Gerrard’s corner kick fell favourably for him at the back post and Manquillo’s embarrassingly bad shot from Sterling’s pass went out for a throw in.
Unfortunately, the Reds performed even worse at the other end of the pitch, conceding two shambolic goals in the space of three minutes. First, on 78 minutes Mignolet handed possession back to Palace as he smashed a free kick out for a throw in. Liverpool failed to set themselves back up to defend swiftly enough and subsequently Palace capitalised, Bolasie leaving Lovren on the turf with some sumptuous skill before squaring to Joe Ledley, who was afforded the freedom of Selhurst Park by Liverpool’s defence, who watched on as he turned home from the penalty spot.
|Ledley turns home from close range|
Then, Skrtel, who had already been booked, almost got himself sent off as he foolishly pulled Gayle’s shirt. Admittedly, it was a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other as replays showed Gayle was pulling Skrtel’s shirt too, but the Slovakian was silly to give referee Jonathan Moss an excuse to award the home side a free kick.
Mile Jedinak proceeded to send an unstoppable free kick into the top corner. It was a brilliant strike, but it could so easily have been avoided if Skrtel had kept his hands to himself for once. That was that, as Liverpool weren’t going to find a way back into the game by that stage.
|Jedinak's goal was the final nail in Liverpool's coffin|
Liverpool now lie in twelfth position, closer to the relegation zone then the Champions League places. The Reds are in a full blown crisis, and there can be no excuses for the consistently poor performances and results so far this season. Something has got to change fast if the Reds are to arrest their decline and prevent this season being a washout.