MANCHESTER, March 20 – Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama returned to inspire Southampton rally two goals down to beat Liverpool 3-2 at St Mary’s on Sunday.
Sadio Mane scored twice and squandered a penalty to help Southampton check Liverpool’s charge towards the top four.
Jurgen Klopp’s charges went 2-0 up inside 22 minutes, Philippe Coutinho curling in a fine effort from 25 yards and Divock Origi teeing up Daniel Sturridge to score.
Senegal international Mane, a half-time replacement for Dusan Tadic, saw a penalty saved by Simon Mignolet early in the second half after Martin Skrtel was adjudged to have fouled Graziano Pelle.
But Mane sped past Mamadou Sakho to reduce the arrears and after Pelle equalised with a vicious shot in the 83rd minute, the Italian freed Mane to run through and score an 86th-minute winner.
It meant that Liverpool failed to put pressure on Manchester City and Manchester United, who face off at the Etihad Stadium later on Sunday.
Liverpool had started the day with hopes of claiming a fourth successive Premier League victory and boosting their hopes of staging a late challenge for a Champions League place.
They ended it ninth place and facing a battle to claim a spot in next season’s Europa League, while Southampton are now firmly in the hunt for a European berth.
Jurgen Klopp’s side overcame an early scare when referee Roger East took a lenient view when Saints striker Shane Long was sent tumbling inside the Liverpool area after a push from Dejan Lovren.
A Virgil van Dijk header flew narrowly wide and Pelle shot over when he should have tested Liverpool keeper Mignolet as Klopp’s side struggled to gain a foothold in the game.
Klopp was growing increasingly animated on the touchline but his mood was eased when Southampton demonstrated they were equally vulnerable and gifted Liverpool the chance to take control of the game.
Perhaps fuelled by their success at making early inroads against their opponents, Southampton pressed forward, leaving gaps at the back that were ruthlessly exploited by a succession of Liverpool breaks.
First, Philippe Coutinho exposed the space left behind Saints right-back Cuco Martina in the 17th minute, surging forward before cutting inside and curling a right foot shot inside the far post.
Southampton keeper Fraser Forster was slow to react having been left unsighted but should have done much better.
– Undermanned –
The home side attempted to respond quickly but were caught out again five minutes later, with Divock Origi this time leading the charge against an undermanned defence.
The Belgian played the ball to his striker partner Sturridge who placed his shot between Ryan Bertrand and Jose Fonte and inside the far post.
Now it was Koeman who was pacing his technical area furiously and his side’s plight could easily have been worse had Sturridge not wasted an opportunity after three Liverpool attackers advanced on two defenders.
And another let off quickly followed when Joe Allen – starting in place of Jordan Henderson who has been linked with a close-season move – saw his snapshot ruled out for offside as the prospect of a repeat of the Liverpool’s 6-1 League cup victory at St Mary’s grew stronger.
Unsurprisingly Koeman made a double change at half-time, introducing Mane and Victor Wanyama for Jordy Clasie and Dusan Tadic, while Klopp brought on Martin Skrtel for Lovren.
The changes had an impact on the game, although not in the manner either manager had hoped.
Four minutes after the restart, Skrtel was guilty of pulling Pelle to the ground as the forward attempted to reach Steven Davis’s pass and this time the referee pointed to the spot.
Mane was entrusted with the responsibility of bringing Southampton back into the game but saw his penalty well saved by Mignolet.
The forward went some way towards making amends when he finally beat Mignolet with a well executed finish after being set up by Pelle in the 64th minute.
Southampton continued to press and were level in the 83rd minute when Pelle beat Mignolet with a superb 20 yard drive.
With Liverpool falling apart, Italy forward Pelle set up Mane for the sensational winner three minutes later.
In the day’s other early game, Aleksandar Mitrovic scored an 83rd-minute equaliser as Newcastle United prevented northeast rivals Sunderland from escaping the Premier League relegation zone in a 1-1 draw.
Seeking a seventh successive win over Newcastle, Sunderland took the lead in the 44th minute at St James’ Park when Jermain Defoe volleyed home left-footed after Rob Elliot had parried a shot from Fabio Borini.
But with seven minutes remaining, Georginio Wijnaldum crossed for Serbian striker Mitrovic to score with a downward header, sparing Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez from defeat in his first home game and keeping both teams in the bottom three.
With eight games each to play, third-bottom Sunderland are two points from safety, with Newcastle a point behind in 19th place.