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Tuesday May 6, 2014 MYT 7:37:04 AM
Tuesday May 6, 2014 MYT 7:37:04 AM
by mike collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Liverpool blew a 3-0 lead in the final 11 minutes to draw 3-3 at Crystal Palace on Monday as their desperate search for more goals left them exposed at the back and handed the Premier League title initiative firmly back to Manchester City.
Liverpool's naivety, allied to woeful mistakes and decision-making when victory seemed assured, almost certainly ended their hopes of a first title for 24 years and although they returned to top spot, Manchester City are now odds-on favourites to win their second title in three seasons.
Liverpool have 81 points with one match to play while City have 80 points with two matches left and a nine-goal better goal difference.
City host Aston Villa on Wednesday and West Ham United on Sunday while Liverpool's remaining game is at home to Newcastle United.
Liverpool were coasting to victory and a three-point lead after goals from Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge and Suarez, who was named Footballer of the Year earlier in the day.
But Palace stormed back with two goals from substitute Dwight Gayle and one from Damien Delaney who brought Palace back into the game with a screamer in the 79th minute before Gayle's second two minutes from time forced the draw.
The Liverpool players slumped to the ground in despair at the end with Suarez and others in tears as they left the field.
Liverpool's title hopes, already receding after last week's 2-0 home defeat by Chelsea and City's 3-2 win at Everton on Saturday, are now hanging by an even slenderer thread and manager Brendan Rodgers conceded their challenge was over.
"The title race is over now, Manchester City will go on and win it. We had to win this match tonight to keep the pressure on City. I think they will go on and win the two games and be champions," he told reporters.
"For 75 minutes it was an outstanding performance. The important thing was to win the game tonight to put some sort of pressure on City but it's very disappointing to concede those three goals.
"It was really poor defending. Poor decision-making. We should have managed the game much better when we were 3-0 up," he said.
"But Palace showed great spirit to come back into it,"
Palace's fightback typified their own recovery under coach Tony Pulis this season.
Seemingly headed for relegation with just one win in their first 12 games when he took over in November, they will finish in a comfortable mid-table spot.
There was no hint of the devastation to hit Liverpool, however, as they controlled the game until the final drama unfolded.
"At halftime I really believed if we could keep it tight for 10 minutes then we could get back in the game but we didn't manage that," Pulis said.
"Liverpool are a team you can score goals against but they will always back themselves to score more than you so I always felt we would score.
"The first goal knocked them back a bit and our supporters were just amazing and they played their part.
"The big test was keeping their forwards quiet, we didn't manage to do that but we did score goals."
Wales international midfielder Allen put Liverpool ahead when he was left unmarked following a Steven Gerrard corner and headed in for his first Premier League goal for Liverpool in his 50th appearance.
Sturridge doubled the score with a deflected shot eight minutes into the second half while Suarez scored his 31st goal of the season two minutes later after playing a one-two with Raheem Sterling to take Liverpool's goal tally for the campaign to 99 goals.
Liverpool continued to pour forward in a bid to further trim Manchester City's goal difference advantage but paid a heavy price for leaving themselves exposed to the counter-attack.
Delaney reduced the arrears with a fierce shot before Gayle brought Palace right back into the game after Yannick Bolasie, a continual threat on the break, squared the ball back to him and he swept it home.
The third goal came after a long ball forward and Gayle took advantage of more poor defending to equalise.
The result left Chelsea, in third place on 79 points, with a theoretical but remote chance of the title and their manager's words must have been ringing in Rodgers' ears.
Jose Mourinho's mentality is to grab a goal and then defend at all costs, something Rodgers and his naive team failed to do as they self-destructed in spectacular fashion.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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