LIVERPOOL (AFP) – Mario Balotelli scored his first Premier League goal for Liverpool as the Italian’s late strike secured a 3-2 win over Tottenham on Tuesday that boosted their hopes of a top-four finish.
Brendan Rodgers’ side had twice led through Lazar Markovic and a Steven Gerrard penalty only to be pegged back by goals from Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele in a thrilling encounter at Anfield.
Balotelli, who hadn’t scored a league goal since arriving from AC Milan in August, came off the bench to deliver the decisive blow with seven minutes left when he tapped home to secure a vital success against one of Liverpool’s rivals for a Champions League spot.
With Raheem Sterling out with a foot injury, Rodgers gave his place to fit-again England striker Daniel Sturridge, who made his first start since August.
Jordon Ibe, Gerrard and Markovic were also in Rodgers’ starting line-up while Tottenham were unchanged from the side which beat Arsenal in the north London derby.
Sturridge seized on a weak back pass from Ryan Mason early on and broke clear into the box, but his finish was not quite as sharp and Hugo Lloris gathered comfortably.
There was significantly more conviction from a fierce Sturridge angled shot moments later, having been teed up by Markovic, only for the unsighted Lloris to produce a superb diving save.
However, the France international will feel he should have done much better with Liverpool’s opening goal in the 15th minute.
A long high ball controlled by Sturridge found its way to the Serbia international who effortlessly glided to the left edge of the area and saw his low shot, albeit not the most powerful, squirm past the weak hand offered by Spurs goalkeeper.
Kane had already showed the kind of confidence currently surging through his veins with a speculative effort from the half-way line.
And Kane took his tally in the Premier League to 13 goals – more than any Spurs striker managed in the whole of last season – when he finished off a slick passing move from the visitors just before the half-hour mark. A clever exchange involving Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela saw space open up inside the box for Kane and he capitalised on Mamadou Sakho’s slip to fire the ball into the net off Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Young winger Ibe, once again a menace with his aggressive direct running and quick feet on the right flank, cut inside and unleashed a powerful shot which stung the palms of Lloris, while a Sturridge backheel hit the post as the hosts finished the first half in the ascendancy.
That advantage was quickly reasserted when Liverpool were awarded a penalty shortly after the break as Sturridge tumbled under a clumsy challenge from Danny Rose, and Gerrard confidently struck the spot-kick past Lloris.
Mignolet tipped a sweet strike from Lamela over the crossbar before the visitors fought back to level matters for a second time on the hour.
Eriksen’s dipping free-kick was parried by Mignolet and Kane scuffed it into the six-yard box for Dembele, who bundled the ball over the line from close range.