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Watford strike late to hold shaky Liverpool in thriller

Updated August 13, 2017
WATFORD: Watford's Stefano Okaka scores his side's opening goal against Liverpool during their English Premier League match at Vicarage Road on Saturday.─AP
WATFORD: Watford's Stefano Okaka scores his side's opening goal against Liverpool during their English Premier League match at Vicarage Road on Saturday.─AP

LONDON: Liverpool showed familiar defensive weaknesses after conceding a trio of soft goals including a stoppage-time equaliser in an absorbing 3-3 Premier League draw at Watford on Saturday.

Defender Miguel Britos bundled the ball home at the death after Liverpool had come from 1-0 and 2-1 down to lead 3-2 thanks to a three-minute blitz in the second half, when new signing Mohamed Salah made an impact.

Former Chelsea winger Salah, who joined Liver­pool from AS Roma during the close season, won a pen­alty converted by Rob­erto Firmino in the 55th minute and then bundled in the Brazilian’s lofted pass from close range.

But the visitors were punished for sloppy defending and missing a string of chances as Britos popped up at the near post to delight the home fans at Vicarage Road, leaving Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp blaming the officials and bad luck.

“The equaliser was offside. It’s obvious because the linesman is on the line. He needs to see it,” said Klopp. “The first half I wasn’t too happy with. We passed but we couldn’t see what we actually wanted. The second half was a lot better but we forgot to close the game.”

Having declared that the club’s want-away Brazil forward Philippe Coutinho is not for sale, Klopp may need to strengthen his back four who looked completely at sea almost every time the home side came forward.

Liverpool fell behind in the eighth minute after striker Stefano Okaka was left completely unmarked at the near post to head in a Jose Holebas corner.

Sadio Mane drew the visitors level with a classy equaliser, having started and finished a slick move which involved a double exchange of passes with Alberto Moreno and a deft touch by Emre Can.

Yet Liverpool were hit by another sucker punch just three minutes later, as they failed to clear a low cross by Tom Cleverley which left midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure with a simple tap-in.

Liverpool appeared to be heading for victory after Firmino sent Watford keeper Heurelho Gomez the wrong way with his spot-kick and then chipped the ball into Salah’s stride to put the visitors 3-2 ahead.

Yet they missed several good chances to put the game beyond Watford’s reach and paid the price when a poorly delivered corner from the right caught them napping and Britos poked in the equaliser after a goal-mouth melee.

Meanwhile, a feast of goals opened the Premier League season on Friday evening when Arsenal twice came from behind to beat Leicester City 4-3 with substitute Olivier Giroud heading a late winner.

Arsenal’s new signing Frenchman Alexandre Lacazette took 94 seconds to make his mark with a header from Mohamed Elneny’s curling cross to equal the record for the fastest opening goal in a Premier League season.

Shinji Okazaki scored a quick equaliser, Jamie Vardy put Leicester ahead and Danny Welbeck levelled for Arsenal before halftime. Vardy then restored Leicester’s lead at 3-2 early in the second half before goals in the final seven minutes from substitutes Aaron Ramsay and Giroud gave Arsenal victory.

“Going forward and character wise we have been great,” said a relieved Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who will be seeking a first league title since 2004 after being handed another two years in charge.

“We had some avoidable goals which we conceded and overall we have to work on that,” he said referring to poor marking in the by his team’s defence.

Arsenal’s quickfire lead lasted barely three minutes before Marc Albrighton’s cross from the left was headed back into the middle by Leicester’s new signing Harry Maguire and Okazaki nodded the ball past flailing Arsenal keeper Petr Cech.

Vardy put the visitors 2-1 ahead just before the half hour, darting into the box to rifle another fine Albrighton cross past Cech after the winger had pounced on a poor square ball from Arsenal midfielder Mezut Ozil.

But Welbeck had the last word of the first half for the home side when he equalised from close range in added time after new signing Sead Kolasinac’s tap forward in a goalmouth melee.

The impressive Vardy scored his second in the 53rd minute to put Leicester in front once more, curling Riyad Mahrez’s corner into the bottom far corner amid poor Arsenal marking.

But the home side’s pressure in the final half hour turned the game back their way and Ramsey equalised with a shot from close range with seven minutes remaining.

Giroud then sent the previously despondent Arsenal fans wild when he headed the 85th minute winner from a corner, Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel only managing to turn the ball onto the underside of the bar before it bounced over the line.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2017