LIVERPOOL, England (AP) - Liverpool’s creaking bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League received another setback as Newcastle scored an equalizer at the end of a dramatic period of stoppage time in a 1-1 draw at Anfield on Saturday.
Joe Willock scrambled home a deflected shot in the fifth minute of added-on time to deny Liverpool, which failed to heed its lesson from conceding a goal two minutes earlier - to another substitute, Callum Wilson - that was ruled out for handball.
Mohamed Salah’s 20th Premier League goal of the season looked like giving Liverpool a win that would have lifted the team into the top four, above Tottenham, West Ham and Chelsea.
As it is, the Reds are sixth with five games remaining of a disappointing title defense that has left them battling just to earn Champions League qualification.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said the draw “feels like a defeat” and bemoaned his players’ inability to manage the final minutes as Newcastle pushed forward.
“Why it happened I don’t know. We just have to keep the ball. In a specific way, we don’t fight enough,” Klopp said.
“I didn’t see that we deserved today playing Champions League next season,” he added. “We learn or we don’t play Champion League.”
Klopp should take some of the blame, though, for Liverpool’s performance in an open and often wild game, largely brought about by his decision to play a front four of Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah.
That meant Liverpool looked dangerous going forward - the team had 22 shots - but was left vulnerable at the back.
Salah’s goal came in the third minute and was brilliantly taken - the Egypt forward bringing down a high ball with his left foot and swiveling to smash a finish high into the net. He became the first Liverpool player to score at least 20 goals in three different Premier League seasons.
Salah missed a glut of other chances to move level with Harry Kane as this season’s top scorer and Liverpool was made to pay by Willock, who has been something of a super sub in recent games - even if the on-loan Arsenal midfielder recoiled at the tag when it was put to him after the match.
Three late goals from Willock have earned Newcastle four points just this month: an 85th-minute equalizer against Tottenham on April 4, an 82nd-minute winner against West Ham last weekend, and now his last-gasp goal at Anfield.
“I don’t want to be labeled a super sub, but I’m happy I helped the team to a vital point that keeps us up in this league,” Willock said.
Newcastle moved nine points above the relegation zone with five games left.
Most of the chances created by Newcastle, for whom forward Allan Saint-Maximin was a constant live wire, came in the first half and again after Willock and Wilson, the fit-again striker, came off the bench halfway through the second half.
Klopp tried to bring some order to a chaotic match by introducing central midfielders James Milner and Curtis Jones for the closing stages, but Liverpool was sloppy with possession and kept on piling forward to leave the injury-hit defense exposed.
Liverpool again had a makeshift center-back pairing of Fabinho - naturally a midfielder - and Ozan Kabak, who both got booked for fouls on Saint-Maximin and failed to deal with the high ball into the area that led to Willock‘s goal.
Before the match at a virtually empty Anfield, owing to restrictions in place during the pandemic, some fans protested outside the stadium against Liverpool’s American ownership for involving the club in the aborted Super League project.
“£nough is £nough FSG Out” and “Henry, You have blood on your hands,” were the words on some of the banners hung up or held by fans, referencing Fenway Sports Group and principal owner John Henry.
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