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Liverpool lose at Tottenham in season opener

sports Updated: Aug 16, 2009 23:00 IST
Bassong puts early dent in Liverpool's title challenge

Tottenham defender Sebastien Bassong put an early dent in Liverpool's Premier League title challenge as his debut goal clinched a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Bassong made an immediate repayment on the eight million pounds fee Spurs boss Harry Redknapp splashed out to sign the centre-back from Newcastle last week.

But it was Liverpool who were left to count a more significant cost after a result and performance that already cast doubts on their ability to win the English league for the first time in 20 years.

Rafael Benitez's team fell behind to a fine first half strike from Benoit Assou-Ekotto and, although Steven Gerrard equalised with a penalty after the interval, Bassong's winner was well deserved.

Finishing just four points behind Manchester United last term has raised expectations that this will be the season when Liverpool finally end their long wait to be crowned kings of English football.

They will have to improve dramatically to do that and much more will be demanded from Fernando Torres than this lacklustre effort.

After a tepid opening in the north London sunshine, Liverpool suffered a self-inflicted blow when Martin Skrtel collided with Jamie Carragher as both centre-backs tried to head clear.

Skrtel's head smashed into Carragher's face and the defender disappeared groggily down the tunnel before resuming with a bandage covering a nasty gash on his forehead.

It was that kind of no-holds-barred encounter but Benitez would have been more concerned with the way Liverpool struggled to find any attacking rhythm.

As the Reds spluttered, Tottenham grew in stature and only a superb save from Jose Reina denied Robbie Keane the opening goal after 30 minutes.

Luka Modric did well to hook Wilson Palacios's cross back into the six-yard box towards Keane and the former Liverpool forward's diving header looked destined for the net until Reina plunged to his left to block.

Without the calming influence of Xabi Alonso, who joined Real Madrid earlier this month, Liverpool lacked the ability to cope with the power of Palacios and Tom Huddlestone in midfield.

Lucas Leiva, Alonso's replacement, and Ryan Babel were well off the pace and it was no surprise when Tottenham took the lead in the 44th minute.

Liverpool failed to clear Huddlestone's free-kick and Assou-Ekotto, taking possession 25 yards out, hit an unstoppable swerving shot past Reina into the far corner.

Palacios showed Tottenham weren't going to sit on their lead with a thumping effort early in the second half that Reina did well to tip over.

Benitez's decision to sign flying England right-back Glen Johnson had signalled his intention to cast off the defensive shackles that contributed to Liverpool's inability to break down inferior opposition last season.

And it was debutant Johnson who played the key role as Liverpool equalised in the 56th minute.

The 17 million pound signing from Portsmouth surged past two defenders into the penalty area and was up-ended by Heurelho Gomes as the Brazilian charged off his line.

Referee Phil Dowd immediately pointed to the spot and Gerrard stepped up to lash the penalty high into the roof of the net.

But Tottenham refused to let that set-back affect them. Just three minutes later, Jermain Defoe won a free-kick and when Modric curled it into the area, Bassong rose above Carragher to plant a perfect header past Reina.

Gerrard's free-kick forced Gomes to nervously push over the bar as Liverpool tried to respond, but Benitez was soon ringing the changes, with Yossi Benayoun and Andriy Voronin on for Babel and Kuyt.

Liverpool pressed hard at the end but the closest they came to an equaliser were rejected penalty appeals against Assou-Ekotto, who nudged Voronin and then appeared to handle Torres's cross.

Sammy Lee, Benitez's assistant, was so frustrated that he was sent off for a tirade of abuse at the officials. It was that kind of day for Liverpool.