Liverpool less than red hot

Tottenham defender Sebastien Bassong put an early dent in Liverpool's Premier League title challenge as his debut goal clinched a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane yesterday.

Tottenham defender Sebastien Bassong put an early dent in Liverpool's Premier League title challenge as his debut goal clinched a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane yesterday.

Bassong made an immediate repayment on the £8 million (about R115 million) fee Spurs boss Harry Redknapp splashed out for the centre-back.

But it was Liverpool who were left to count a more significant cost.

Rafael Benitez's team fell behind to a fine first half strike from Benoit Assou-Ekotto and although Steven Gerrard equalised from the spot after the interval, Bassong's winner was well deserved.

As the Reds spluttered, Tottenham grew in stature and only a superb save from Jose Reina denied Robbie Keane the opening goal after 30 minutes.

Without the calming influence of Xabi Alonso, who joined Real Madrid earlier this month, Liverpool lacked the ability to cope with the power of Palacios and Tom Huddlestone in midfield.

Liverpool failed to clear Huddlestone's free-kick and Assou-Ekotto, taking possession 25 yards out, hit an unstoppable swerving shot past Reina into the far corner.

Palacios showed Tottenham weren't going to sit on their lead with a thumping effort early in the second half that Reina did well to tip over.

And it was debutant Glen Johnson who played the key role as Liverpool equalised in the 56th minute. The £17 million (R221 million) signing from Portsmouth surged past two defenders into the penalty area and was up-ended by Heurelho Gomes as the Brazilian charged off his line.

Referee Phil Dowd immediately pointed to the spot and Gerrard stepped up to lash the penalty high into the roof of the net.

But Tottenham refused to let that set-back affect them. Just three minutes later, Jermain Defoe won a free-kick and when Modric curled it into the area, Bassong rose above Carragher to plant a perfect header past Reina.

Liverpool pressed hard at the end but the closest they came to an equaliser were rejected penalty appeals against Assou-Ekotto, who nudged Voronin and then appeared to handle Torres's cross. - Sapa-AFP

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