Few heavyweight titles are won with a glass jaw, even fewer with a susceptibility to sucker punches. Winning the title looks beyond Liverpool this season and unless their defence stops dropping its guard, a place in next season's Champions League by finishing second or third will again pass them by.
Yesterday Liverpool lost a match they initially looked well capable of winning because, in the words of their French manager Gérard Houllier, "we made two childish defensive mistakes".
These errors saw Tottenham score twice in nine minutes towards the end of the first half after Robbie Fowler had given Liverpool the lead with his first league goal of the season.
After that Houllier's team, for all their possession, did not regain the initiative in the face of tenacious and disciplined resistance by the youthful defence George Graham fielded in the absence of the injured Sol Campbell and the suspended Ben Thatcher.
There is never a bad time to beat opposition of Liverpool's stature, and for Spurs the moment was especially opportune given the prospect of demonstrations by supporters disgruntled by what they see as a lack of progress in signing new players. Not for nothing did Graham observe that "five of the players we had out there today were home grown".
For Houllier, Liverpool's repeated defensive lapses are all the more frustrating as they come after a season in which they were the most parsimonious opponents in the Premiership. And after this match it was clear that his patience was nearing exhaustion.
While both of Tottenham's goals were avoidable, the first must have struck a raw Gallic nerve. Having taken the ball off Sergei Rebrov, Spurs' Ukrainian striker, near the corner flag, the Liverpool central defender Stéphane Henchoz played it straight up the touchline to the advancing Stephen Clemence, who then received a return backheeled pass from Rebrov before centring low for Les Ferdinand to turn in the equaliser.
"When you are under pressure you don't try to pass the ball," Houllier grumbled, "you clear it. This was not an 18-year-old, this was an international player.
"We've now conceded 21 goals in the league this season and 10 of them could have been avoided. And I think that in 11 of the 14 matches we've played we have scored first. Had we won all of those we would now have 33 points, the same as Manchester United.
"Until we solve this problem we will not be up there with the leaders. United scored in the first two minutes at Manchester City on Saturday and defended well enough to win. That is the difference between us."
From Houllier's point of view Tottenham's second goal was hardly more forgivable. This time Liverpool's defence stood still, appealing for offside against Ferdinand, who was running back, as a long pass from Luke Young reached Clemence on the left. This time the midfielder's cross was high and true, and Tim Sherwood rose well to head the ball past Sander Westerveld.
Relatively cheap though the goals were, they restored the confidence of a Spurs side starting to lose its way against Liverpool's superior passing and the efficiency with which Gary McAllister, Dietmar Hamann and Danny Murphy were denying Darren Anderton and Sherwood space in midfield.
Once Fowler had scored, moreover, Tottenham's unbeaten home league record looked to be ending as Liverpool moved forward to settle the contest by half-time. Fowler's goal was typical of his style, a clinical left-footed shot low inside the right-hand post after Murphy had cleverly hooked a long ball from Hyypia into his path.
Once behind, however, Liverpool rarely regained their rhythm, and after Neil Sullivan had pushed wide a shot from Owen at the start of the second half they came no closer. In fact Stephen Carr nearly extended Tottenham's lead after 67 minutes when his intended centre beat Westerveld and rebounded from the far post.
Tottenham (2) 2 - 1 (1) Liverpool
Sullivan; Carr, King, Perry, Thelwell, Young; Anderton, Clemence, Sherwood (Freund); Ferdinand, Rebrov (Armstrong).
Westerveld; Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, Traore (Gerrard); Hamann, McAllister, Murphy (Carragher); Fowler, Owen, Smicer (Barmby).
Referee: Mr M.Howsey
Tottenham Hotspur: Anderton (56)
Liverpool: Smicer (29) Babbel (72)
Tottenham Hotspur: 11
Tottenham Hotspur: 3
Tottenham Hotspur: 6
Tottenham Hotspur: 4
Tottenham Hotspur: 1
Tottenham Hotspur: 6
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