By Simon Evans
NEWCASTLE, England, (Reuters) – Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes were kept alive by an 86th minute header from substitute Divock Origi in a thrilling 3-2 win at Newcastle United on Saturday.
The result leaves Liverpool with a two-point advantage over Manchester City but Pep Guardiola’s team have two games remaining, including Monday’s home match with Leicester City, while Liverpool have just one — their final game at home to Wolves.
But until Origi’s late goal, Liverpool were staring at a draw against former manager Rafa Benitez’s 14th place side in a title battle which allows no forgiveness.
Such a result would have given City a margin for error in their final two games which it is hard to imagine they would have let slip.
After Liverpool’s 3-0 loss to Barcelona in their Champions League semi-final, first-leg on Wednesday, failing to secure all three points on Saturday would have been another blow.
Instead an eighth Premier League win in a row keeps Juergen Klopp’s side right in the race and puts the pressure back on City.
Virgil Van Dijk headed Liverpool in front in the 13th minute, losing his marker and meeting Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner with a thundering header.
Seven minutes later though Newcastle drew level with Salomon Rondon’s shot cleared off the line by the hand of Alexander-Arnold but before the referee had time to award a penalty Christian Atsu fired home the loose ball.
Ayoze Perez then rattled the Liverpool bar with a fierce drive as the home side pushed forward with intent but Liverpool were soon back in the lead.
Daniel Sturridge, starting in place of the injured Roberto Firmino, back-heeled the ball from the corner to Alexander-Arnold and the full-back’s cross was expertly turned in by Mohamed Salah.
Newcastle were in no mood to roll over though and nine minutes after the break they drew level when Liverpool failed to clear a corner and Rondon’s brilliant fierce left foot drive beat the helpless Alisson Becker to make it 2-2.
But with Salah carried off on a stretcher with a head injury and Juergen Klopp’s side facing a massive blow to their title hopes, Origi rose at the near post to head in a Xherdan Shaqiri free-kick.
It was a barely deserved victory and Newcastle warrant major credit for a combative display, when they had little to play for having already secured survival.
But Klopp will not worry about the lack of fluency and dynamism of his team through several periods of this game — once again they showed the spirit and character to carve out a victory.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)