Gayle 81' 88'
That was amazing. Indescribably, unbelievably amazing. But in the worst possible way.
A brilliant, beautiful disaster that you couldn't script. This was beyond naïve. I should be angry. I imagine all of you are angry. But right now, I'm just too amazed to be angry.
Aside from the first three matches of the season, Liverpool have been swashbuckling. And Liverpool have been more open than a pervert's trench coat. Liverpool have thrown caution to the wind in search of goals goals goals, and were propelled to an unlikely title challenge by the best attack we've seen in two decades.
And they'd done it in spite of their worst defensive record in 15 seasons. Well, that defensive record caught up with them, in less than 10 minutes, because of Liverpool's focus on an all-out attack. A very, very naïve focus, but to be fair, that's been Liverpool's modus operandi all season long.
As fans, it's all well and good to claim that Liverpool could replicate a 9-0 result from 24 seasons ago, the last time that Liverpool won the title. It's a completely different matter for the players and manager to evidently believe it.
1-0 – a goal earned in the 18th minute through yet another set play, scored by what might have been the most unlikely scorer in Joe Allen, from a header no less – wasn't good enough. Even at the best of times, against the best of defenses, Tony Pulis' sides are capable of nicking at least one. But after a two-goal blitz in the space of two minutes from Liverpool's two strikers – Sturridge's fortunate deflection after Gerrard's brilliant long pass, a precise blitzkrieg break by Sterling and Suarez – bracketed by a handful of chances where Liverpool could have extended the lead even further (including the required one off the woodwork), there should have been no thought of a Palace comeback.
But regardless of situation, regardless of fitness, regardless of squad depth, Liverpool hammered the pedal to the floor, in spite of themselves. Push as hard as you can, as fast as you can, and somehow make up a nine goal difference rather than putting the onus on Manchester City. In retrospect, that was not smart. But, that's Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool, for better or worse, for better and worse.
Put simply, Liverpool got carried away. And Liverpool players unsurprisingly ran out of gas by the 70th minutes, with no depth available on the bench thanks to Coutinho's minor injury. Which, unsurprisingly, is when Palace began to create chances on the counter, after two Palace substitutions and none from Liverpool. That should have been a five-alarm warning. But it went unheeded. Less than a minute after Coutinho finally came on for Sterling, what deflections giveth, deflections taketh away: Delaney's shot from distance rebounding off Johnson. Two minutes later, Palace broke three-versus-three from a Liverpool corner: Bolasie took a fading Johnson completely out of the play, then centered to an open Gayle.
Liverpool could not stop the flood. And in the 88th minute, a long ball from Palace's defense pulled Skrtel out of position because neither of Liverpool's covering midfielders had the energy to get to Glenn Murray, then Murray flicked on to an open Gayle, right where Skrtel should have been, and Gayle had an easy tap-in for the equalizer.
Liverpool tried to regroup in five minutes of added time, but that the two best chances came following a corner but fell to Lucas and Moses sums up how this season will end. Just not good enough in defense, and just not deep enough to recover from setbacks.
So in the end, Liverpool just aren't, weren't good enough. So be it. This is the way the world ends. With both a bang and a whimper.
It shouldn't take away from how brilliant, how fun, how much of a revelation that this season has been.