Liverpool march on

Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s second goal

Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s second goal

SOUTHAMPTON. — Philippe Coutinho scored a magnificent goal as Liverpool overcame Southampton 2-0 in a controversial game yesterday to close to within two points of the Premier League’s top four.

Coutinho opened the scoring with a stunning 30-yard effort in the third minute and Raheem Sterling added a second goal towards the end, but it was the performance of referee Kevin Friend that was to prove the biggest talking point on a cold, squally evening at St Mary’s.

The official turned down two strong penalty appeals from Southampton and was barracked by their supporters throughout, as Ronald Koeman’s side went a third home game without finding the net.

The result prevented Southampton from overtaking fourth-place Manchester United, who they trail by a point and Liverpool are now just a point further back after extending their unbeaten run to 10 league games. Brendan Rodgers’ in-form side are now within touching distance of the Champions League berths ahead of a pivotal week that sees them take a 1-0 lead to Besiktas in the Europa League before welcoming champions Manchester City to Anfield next weekend.

Dejan Lovren, who replaced the injured Mamadou Sakho, and former Southampton captain Adam Lallana were both booed on their returns to St Mary’s, but Coutinho sliced through the home fans’ jeers with a sensational early goal. Collecting the ball 30 yards from goal, the Brazilian midfielder shifted it onto his right foot and let fly with a glorious, dipping shot towards the top-left corner that cannoned into the net via the crossbar.

By then, Filip Djuricic, making his first Southampton start, had already had a penalty appeal turned down when he went down after getting goal-side of Emre Can, and he then saw an even stronger claim waved away. He was sent sprawling by a sliding challenge from Joe Allen, but Friend allowed play to continue and Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had to block from Eljero Elia.

The official further angered the home support when he failed to penalise Can for up-ending Nathaniel Clyne on the Southampton right, but he also allowed Jose Fonte to get away with a full-blooded sliding block on Sterling.

Meanwhile, Harry Kane was again Tottenham Hotspur’s saviour when he scored in the sixth minute of stoppage time to complete a dramatic comeback and rescue a 2-2 draw at home to West Ham United.

The visitors had taken a deserved 2-0 lead with a goal in each half from Cheikhou Kouyate and Diafra Sakho, while two superb saves from Spurs’ Hugo Lloris prevented them increasing their advantage.

A scrappy 80th-minute goal from Danny Rose, however, heralded a late cavalry charge from the hosts and when Alex Song made faint contact with Kane the striker tumbled to the ground, prompting referee Jonathan Moss to point to the spot.

Kane’s tame first effort was parried by West Ham keeper Adrian but he gobbled up the rebound from close range for his 24th goal of the season in all competitions.

“Today we went 2-0 down and I didn’t see one head drop or anyone look disappointed,” Kane told BT Sport.

“We knew that we had half an hour and we said if we got one goal another will come. We left it late again but that showed the character in the squad.”

West Ham have now won one of their last nine matches and are eighth on 39 points, while Tottenham are sixth on 44, three adrift of Manchester United in fourth, which is the final Champions League qualifying spot.

Bottom club Leicester City came painfully close to pulling off a surprise comeback win at Everton but were pegged back to draw 2-2 when Romelu Lukaku’s header was deflected in by Matthew Upson with two minutes remaining.

Steven Naismith had given 12th-placed Everton a second-half lead before goals from Leicester’s David Nugent and Esteban Cambiasso turned the match around but they could not hold on and are now four points adrift at the bottom of the table. — AFP.