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Long-serving Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard bade an underwhelming farewell to Anfield on Saturday as his side lost 3-1 to Crystal Palace in his final home game for the club.
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After almost 17 years of service, 709 appearances, 185 goals and 10 trophies, the 34-year-old midfielder had hoped to sign off on a winning note before joining the Los Angeles Galaxy in July.
But although Adam Lallana put Liverpool ahead, goals from Jason Puncheon and substitutes Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray ruined the script as Palace ended a four-game losing streak and claimed a first league win at Anfield since 1991.
The defeat ended Liverpool’s slim mathematical hope of Champions League qualification ahead of their final game at Stoke City, but that was of minor concern on a day that belonged to their beloved, home-grown captain.
Several former Liverpool greats were among the 44,673 people in attendance, as well as ex-manager Gerard Houllier, who handed an 18-year-old Gerrard his debut as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers in November 1998.
Players from both sides formed a guard of honour as Gerrard took to the pitch accompanied by his daughters Lourdes, Lexie and Lilly-Ella, while fans in the Kop and Centenary Stand formed mosaics in his honour.
Amazing reception for Steven Gerrard at Anfield. pic.twitter.com/k5kC5BSGh5
— Eurosport.com (@EurosportCom_EN) May 16, 2015
Predictably, with Liverpool realistically unable to qualify for the Champions League and Palace long safe from relegation, the sense of occasion diminished the moment the match began.
Palace’s fans, meanwhile, seized an opportunity to remind the man of the hour of the only title to have eluded him during his distinguished Anfield career, chanting: “Have you ever seen Gerrard win the league?”
But after 26 minutes a miscued pass by former Liverpool full-back Martin Kelly put Scott Dann in trouble and Lallana pounced to run through and calmly lift a shot past Wayne Hennessey.
It was not the cue for Liverpool to take control, however, with Joe Ledley, Yannick Bolasie and Lee Chung-yong all squandering chances for Palace, while Simon Mignolet got down well to parry a deflected shot from Puncheon.
Shortly before half-time Puncheon equalised, whipping a fine 20-yard free-kick into the bottom-right corner after Emre Can had been booked for felling Bolasie.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 16, 2015
Jordon Ibe, twice, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson shot wide for Liverpool early in the second half, only for Zaha to give Palace the lead on the hour.
A matter of seconds after replacing Lee, the former Manchester United winger ghosted in at the back post to sweep home a low cross from Bolasie, despite appearing to be offside.
Gerrard had scored in his previous two games and with manager Brendan Rodgers moving him further forward, he had chances to equalise, testing Hennessey with a low shot and curling a free-kick over the bar.
But after Bolasie had hit the bar, Palace won a penalty despite Lucas Leiva’s trip on Zaha occurring outside the box and although Mignolet parried Murray’s spot-kick, he scored at the second attempt.
Hull’s chances of staying in the Barclays Premier League received a hammer blow as they lost 2-0 at Tottenham.
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The Tigers squandered a number of chances in the first half and were made to pay after the break as Nacer Chadli and Danny Rose found the net to hand Spurs the win that leaves Steve Bruce’s men two points adrift of safety.
Hull will need fortune on their side if they are to avoid the drop in next weekend’s final round of fixtures. Unless they beat Manchester United at home and Newcastle lose to West Ham at St James’ Park, Hull will join QPR and Burnley in the Sky Bet Championship next year.
The Magpies threw away a good chance to put distance between themselves and the bottom three as they lost 2-1 at QPR.
Emmanuel Riviere put Newcastle ahead with his first league goal for the club, but Matt Phillips and Leroy Fer found the net for Rangers to leave the Toon Army fretting about next weekend’s game.
Leicester completed their great escape as they drew at Sunderland to secure their Premier League status. The Foxes looked doomed in March, but a run of one defeat in eight matches means they are safe with one game to go.
— Premier League (@premierleague) May 16, 2015
Sunderland are three points above the relegation zone, but one point from their remaining two games will see them safe.
The fact that those games are at Arsenal and Chelsea means the Black Cats are still very much in the relegation dogfight, however.
Aston Villa are safe despite a 6-1 drubbing at Southampton in the lunch-time kick-off. Sadio Mane scored the quickest hat-trick in Premier League history, Shane Long bagged a brace, and Graziano Pelle also found the net while Christian Benteke was on target for the visitors, who are four points above Hull.
Everton came from behind to beat West Ham at Upton Park. Leon Osman cancelled out Stewart Downing’s opener before Romelu Lukaku grabbed all three points for the Toffees with a stoppage-time winner.
Burnley and Stoke played out a goalless draw in Saturday’s other match.