BOURNEMOUTH, United Kingdom, Dec 4 – Liverpool’s title challenge suffered an unexpected setback as they squandered a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 at Bournemouth on an astonishing day the south coast club will never forget.
Jurgen Klopp’s side missed out on a chance to go second in the Premier League and instead remain four points behind leaders Chelsea after their incredible meltdown in the last 14 minutes at Dean Court.
It was also a day when the romance and passion of English football was at its very best.
Bournemouth, who were playing in the fourth tier of English football as recently as six years ago, had never beaten Liverpool in nine previous meetings in all competitions dating back to 1927; in fact you have to rewind to 1968 to even find a draw.
But after excellent goals from Sadio Mane, Divock Origi and Emre Can appeared to put Klopp’s team in control, Bournemouth produced a stunning, high octane comeback culminating in a stoppage-time winner for Nathan Ake.
It was all inspired by a match-winning performance from 22-year-old substitute Ryan Fraser, who only came on because of an injury to teammate Junior Stanislas in the second half with his team trailing 2-0.
The Scottish winger won a penalty with his first touch, scored Bournemouth’s second at 3-1 and set up the equaliser for Steve Cook as the game was turned on its head.
Liverpool fans might have feared their club’s challenge to win a first league title in 27 years could be derailed by news that star man Philippe Coutinho will be missing for up to six weeks with an ankle injury suffered against Sunderland eight days ago.
But instead it was their defence, with Lucas Leiva used as an emergency centre-back because of an injury to Joel Matip, that proved the problem and highlighted weaknesses in Klopp’s squad.
Klopp has spoken recently about the need to add players in January, particularly since Coutinho’s injury, and it may be at the back where he needs most help.
– Sumptuous –
At first it looked as though Liverpool would cruise this game, however.
Bournemouth’s problems began after 20 minutes when a sumptuous long pass from Can sent Mane racing towards goal.
He easily held of defender Ake before coolly and cleverly drinking a shot past goalkeeper Artur Boruc.
If there was nothing Boruc could do about that one, he was certainly at fault for the next –- which arrived only two minutes later.
Again, a long ball up the line –- this time on the right flank from Jordan Henderson -– found Origi racing into the channel, but strangely Boruc hared out of his goal, heading across the field, far too early.
The Belgian was able to side step him and curl a perfect long-range shot into the far corner of the net from a very difficult angle.
Bournemouth’s best hope in the first half came with a strong penalty shout when Roberto Firmino appeared to trip Ake in the area –- and if the Bournemouth man had not flung himself so dramatically to the floor he may well have got it.
But the home side did score from the spot after 56 minutes when James Milner, playing at left-back, clearly brought down Fraser who had only arrived on the pitch seconds earlier.
Striker Callum Wilson scored confidently to add spice to the game.
Liverpool responded well, going 3-1 ahead after 64 minutes when Mane cut the ball back for Can to score with a fierce and swerving shot from the edge of the area.
Fraser had one effort well saved before finishing an excellent breakaway move with a drilled finish from inside the area after 75 minutes.
Suddenly the visitors were rocking -– and when Fraser crossed again from the right, Wilson set the ball back for defender Cook to lash home an unlikely equaliser.
Bournemouth completed their incredible comeback when Loris Karius fumbled Cook’s long-range shot and Ake pounced from close range.