The Reds blew a two goal lead against Bournemouth. Liverpool lost to 4-3 to cost them second place in the EPL.
The Guardians Dominic Fifield wrote: “It is in the aftermath of occasions as gloriously madcap as this when Liverpool’s credentials as title challengers are suddenly rendered flimsy. There were long periods of this enthralling contest when the visitors threatened to overrun their hosts en route to comfortable success and yet, from a position of dominance, they still contrived to end up as victims of arguably the greatest result in Bournemouth’s history. “It’s a wonderful story if you’re not part of it on the wrong side,” Jürgen Klopp said through a rueful grin. “Today that’s where we were.”
The tale defied belief. There were shades of Selhurst Park and that infamous night dubbed ‘Cry-stanbul’ in the finale to Liverpool’s title pursuit under Brendan Rodgers three seasons ago in the way this team unravelled. All those defensive frailties often cited as cause for concern but usually masked by rampant attacking play reared ugly in the frantic last 14 minutes here as the visitors saw a 3-1 lead transformed into a deficit in the third minute of stoppage time.
A 15-match unbeaten run was wrecked amid the bedlam. Once the delirium in the stands had died down home supporters queued in the aisles to take photographs of the big screens displaying the scoreline. The visitors could not leave soon enough.
The sloppiness of the decisive seventh goal summed it all up. Liverpool were still cursing half-chances spurned by Divock Origi and Adam Lallana at the other end when they found themselves pinned back deep inside their own half by their hosts’ late forward thrust. There was Steve Cook, a centre-half loitering high in enemy territory, gathering and spitting a shot at goal that bounced just in front of Loris Karius and was duly spilled out by the goalkeeper. In charged Nathan Aké, who had started the afternoon as the hosts’ other centre-back, to prod a shot through the goalkeeper and smuggle the ball over the line. In another of the afternoon’s many subplots the Dutchman is on loan from the leaders, Chelsea, who are now four points ahead of Liverpool. Momentum has shifted.
Klopp claimed not to be angry and even seemed to accept there will occasionally be days such as this in his first full season in charge. Privately, however, he will have been alarmed at the way this game veered away. They were undone largely by Ryan Fraser, a 22-year-old Scot who spent last season on loan at Ipswich Town and, having started only two top-flight games this season, was flung on in hope rather than expectation for the injured Junior Stanislas 10 minutes after the break. The diminutive winger was inspirational, forever charging head down at his markers and injecting such energy into his team’s approach. It was as if Liverpool had never been confronted by such intent, bamboozled as they were by Fraser’s pace and invention. The recovery was born of his arrival.
Fraser’s first involvement was to reach a loose ball just ahead of James Milner in the box and stumble under the full-back’s touch, a penalty award that left Klopp livid on the sidelines. Callum Wilson dispatched the spot-kick, wrecking the visitors’ hopes of keeping four successive clean sheets for the first time since early 2011 in the process. Emre Can restored the visitors’ two-goal lead in the moments that followed, curling in a fantastic shot from the excellent Sadio Mané’s pull-back, but the locals spied reward whenever Fraser was on the gallop. “The manager just told me to bring a bit of life back into the game,” the £400,000 signing from Aberdeen said. His 35-minute cameo would end with the home support bellowing his name and the sponsors’ man-of-the-match award waiting pitch-side.
It was in the final 14 minutes when Liverpool truly caved in. Jack Wilshere, increasingly influential amid the frenzy all around, robbed Origi on the edge of the Bournemouth penalty area and the substitutes Benik Afobe and Fraser countered at pace. The ball was eventually shifted to Wilson and the move ended with Fraser curling his first Bournemouth goal for almost two years into the corner. Karius was helpless there, although indecision had long since gripped the visitors’ backline. The clock had crept on only another three minutes when Dejan Lovren failed to gain proper purchase on a clearing header and Fraser, fed by Wilshere, delivered once more from the right. Cook, with his back to goal, instinctively collected the ball on the stretch, spun and dispatched the equaliser through the clutter.
The grizzled defender, who has risen through the divisions with this club, actually has a reputation as a canny finisher but even he must have surprised himself with the slick nature of that reward. Eddie Howe said: “After we’d gained promotion we were desperate not to lose the togetherness, the never-say-die attitude and commitment which had got us to the Premier League. Money can harm that but this is evidence we’ve maintained that spirit and, if anything, harnessed it. That bodes well for the future.”
Comebacks such as this are testimony to the conviction he has instilled in this squad. By the end it was hard to contemplate just how dominant Liverpool had once been up to Fraser’s arrival, swarming all over panicked opponents in that familiar, oppressive manner. They had led by two at the break, courtesy first of Artur Boruc’s indecision and, subsequently, his desperate desire to make amends. Can’s lofted pass beyond Aké might have been suffocated by the Pole but his hesitation proved critical as Mané touched his finish delicately beyond the onrushing goalkeeper.
Boruc was no doubt still contemplating that mistake moments later when he charged out of his area hoping to repel Jordan Henderson’s pass down the right only for that, too, to prove a horrible misjudgment. Origi was always likely to reach the ball first and one touch took him round the goalkeeper before a finish thumped home emphatically from a narrow angle. Cook, retreating too late to the post, could only puff out his cheeks in resignation. His afternoon and Bournemouth’s would improve dramatically before the end.