Liverpool let a lead slip away late on to draw 2-2 against Bournemouth and miss the chance to strengthen their grip on third place.
Goals from Philippe Coutinho, equalling Juninho’s tally of 29 to become the joint top-scoring Brazilian in the Premier League, and Divock Origi appeared to have put the hosts on course to open up a six-point gap on fourth-placed Manchester City.
However, Josh King struck in the 87th minute, to follow Benik Afobe’s early opener, as Bournemouth earned a point.
It was not the calamity which had consumed the Reds in the first meeting between the two sides four months ago when Jurgen Klopp’s side twice squandered a two-goal lead to lose 4-3 but there was a feeling of deflation around Anfield at the final whistle.
This was the start of Liverpool’s last eight matches all against teams lower than seventh — just the sort of sides they have struggled against this season — and without Sadio Mane, who has knee cartilage damage and is likely to be out for the remainder of the season, each one will be a test.
It took just seven minutes for Liverpool’s troubles to manifest and it was all self-inflicted.
Under pressure from Harry Arter, Georginio Wijnaldum’s backpass was slow and straight into the path of Afobe, who needed no invitation to become Bournemouth’s first goalscorer at Anfield since 1927 — their only other effort was an Emlyn Hughes own goal in 1968.
If there was a league table for shooting yourself in the foot Liverpool would be runaway leaders, evidenced by allowing Marc Pugh acres of space at a corner when he volleyed across goal and just wide as Bournemouth’s work-rate gave them a good platform.
Without the searing pace of Mane, most of the responsibility fell on Coutinho’s shoulders and his whipped free kick into the side-netting indicated he was up for the challenge.
Five minutes before the break he delivered, although his goal owed a huge amount to Roberto Firmino who despite being tightly marked took out four defenders with a clever five-yard through-ball which his compatriot dug out from under his feet to beat Artur Boruc.
The Bournemouth goalkeeper needed his full height to tip Nathaniel Clyne’s rasping shot onto the crossbar as the visitors found themselves penned in early in the second half.
They eventually cracked on the hour as Coutinho fed Wijnaldum, who made up for his first-half aberration with a teasing cross for Origi to put his head on and find the back of the net.
Eddie Howe’s response was to send on Ryan Fraser, who sparked the dramatic comeback at the Vitality Stadium in December, for former Reds winger Jordon Ibe.
Klopp, having learned a chastening lesson on the south coast, retaliated by sending on centre-back Joel Matip for Coutinho to form a new three-man defence.
Before the match, the German had admitted results were more important than performances at this stage of the season but it seems his players still have trouble grinding out wins.
Steve Cook’s long throw was not cleared properly and in the penalty-area pinball which ensued King fired home.
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