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Balotelli earns Liverpool late win

International Sports

Mario Balotelli's first Premier League goal for Liverpool earns his side a 3-2 victory at home against Tottenham.Mario Balotelli's first Premier League goal for Liverpool earns his side a 3-2 victory at home against Tottenham.Mario Balotelli's first Premier League goal for Liverpool gave them a crucial victory in the fight for a Premier League top-four place in a thrilling game at Anfield.

Liverpool led twice only to be pegged back by Spurs before Balotelli, on as a substitute for Daniel Sturridge, turned in Adam Lallana's cross with seven minutes left.

Lazar Markovic gave Liverpool an early lead but man-of-the-moment Harry Kane was on the mark again to swiftly equalise for Spurs with his 23rd goal of an outstanding season.

Steven Gerrard's penalty just after half-time restored Liverpool's lead but Mousa Dembele levelled again before the decisive late intervention from the Italy striker, who has been little more than a 16m misfit since his summer arrival from AC Milan.

And in the context of the battle to earn a place in next season's Champions League, Balotelli's goal came at the perfect time, halting Spurs' recent resurgence and moving Liverpool to within one point of Mauricio Pochettino's side and three points off fourth-placed Arsenal.

Balotelli did not hang around to enjoy the acclaim at the final whistle, running straight down the tunnel - but no-one appeared to notice or care as The Kop, along with the club's American owner John W. Henry who watched from the stands, celebrated this vital win.

The absence of forward Raheem Sterling through injury allowed Sturridge to make his first Liverpool start since their 3-0 win at White Hart Lane on 31 August - and he had opportunities to mark his return with a goal in an early phase dominated by the hosts.

He showed some ring rust as his shot lacked power when he collected Ryan Mason's poor back pass, but it needed a fine one-handed save from Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris to stop his instant shot as Liverpool applied pressure.

Liverpool's opening goal came after 14 minutes and the normally impeccable Lloris had to take a large share of the responsibility. Markovic picked up the ball following an aerial challenge between Sturridge and Jan Vertonghen, and although his shot did not carry great power it deceived Lloris and ended in the corner of the goal.

Kane's confidence was illustrated with an ambitious effort from the halfway line that was never going to trouble Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet, but he made no mistake with a much more routine chance as Spurs drew level 12 minutes later.

Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela were the creators and when Kane had the opportunity with time and space 10 yards out, he drilled home past Mignolet.

Sturridge was striving to get on the scoresheet and a piece of invention just before half-time was almost rewarded, his backheel after a scramble in the penalty area bouncing back off a post with Lloris beaten.

Mario Balotelli deserves the limelight - Colin Pascoe Liverpool regained the lead seven minutes after the break when Sturridge tumbled under Danny Rose's challenge, leaving Gerrard to score with his usual expertise from the spot.

Spurs, once more, wasted no time responding when Dembele bundled in from almost on the line from Kane's cross after Mignolet had done well to turn away Eriksen's free-kick.

As both managers made changes, it was the introduction of Balotelli for the tiring Sturridge that made the difference - and put Liverpool right in the hunt for a place in the top four.

"We knew it would be a tough game but we got the three points to keep closing the gap.

"Mario always works hard in training. Recently he has been ill and also had a knock on his foot and couldn't get his boot on but he kept going and deserved his goal.

"He got the winner so I'm sure he's happy. He knew he might have to play a part and he did.

"It must have been a great game to watch but we knew were always going to create chances and with Daniel Sturridge back we knew we were always going to have a threat in behind.

"Steven Gerrard just felt his hamstring. He looked over and said he was feeling it so he was just taken off as a precaution.

"We talked about needing to win to get the gap closer and get closer to the top four. We will be looking to do the same when we play at Southampton in our next game - win again and keep closing the gap."

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