Tottenham Hotspur have given their escapology a fresh twist. Seemingly not content with mere rip-roaring comebacks, they decided to throw in a missed penalty here before bringing Liverpool to their knees in suitably dramatic fashion.
When Jermain Defoe offered further proof that neither he nor his Tottenham Hotspur team‑mates can score from 12 yards, Liverpool might have sensed that it was going to be their day after all. Roy Hodgson's team had been good value for their half-time lead, given to them by Martin Skrtel's first goal of the season, a close-range poke. Yet they ought to have extended the advantage to make the game safe, although a margin of any sort offers no guarantee in these parts at present.
Maxi Rodríguez and Fernando Torres were Liverpool's chief culprits in front of goal, both of them losing their composure when one on one with the Tottenham goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes. The sight of Torres bearing down on goal only for his touch to take him wide and the chance to go begging was the first extraordinary moment of the second half.
The reaction of Hodgson and the Liverpool bench told its own story. Never mind that the miss appeared to speak of a player battling to recapture form and confidence; the Merseyside club's staff might have feared that it and the ones that went beforehand would come back to haunt them.
Tottenham's 61st‑minute penalty looked like being the moment. Only David Ngog knew why, from his position in the defensive wall, he chose to jump to block Gareth Bale's free-kick with his hands raised above his head. Liverpool argued that the handball had been outside the area but replays showed that the referee Martin Atkinson's award was justified.
Harry Redknapp said that Rafael van der Vaart would have taken the kick but the Dutch midfielder had felt his hamstring tear in the ninth minute to be forced off. It was the first of the afternoon's four injuries and Redknapp painted a gloomy picture about the Dutchman's prospects.
Redknapp had stripped Defoe of penalty‑taking duties last season after he had missed against Leeds United in the FA Cup in January. Remarkably that was the England striker's sixth miss in 10 attempts at club level. He extended that record here, when he dragged his shot past José Reina's right-hand post. Just as remarkably it was Tottenham's fourth penalty miss of the season, following hard on the heels of failures by Van der Vaart, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Bale.
There would be no Liverpool reprieve. Tottenham simply do not know when they are beaten and it was Luka Modric, through the sheer force of his will, who ignited the revival. He won a header and surged past the Liverpool captain, Jamie Carragher, and Glen Johnson before he crossed low into the six-yard box. Skrtel, sliding in, diverted the ball past Reina to become a scorer at both ends.
Though Bale and Van der Vaart have hogged the headlines for Tottenham this season, regular visitors to White Hart Lane know that Modric has been almost as outstanding. A breathless finale was heavy on Liverpool anguish. Hodgson said his team should have had a penalty for Benôit Assou-Ekotto's full-blooded lunge on Dirk Kuyt while he also lost Ngog and Carragher to injuries, the latter to a dislocated shoulder.
Then came the final agony. After Defoe had put the ball in the net only to be correctly pulled back for offside, Aaron Lennon raced on to Peter Crouch's flick and away from Paul Konchesky to shoot low past Reina. The game was two minutes into added time and the home crowd went into delirium.
Redknapp's team have now taken 16 points from losing positions this season and it was some finale to a glorious week. First, there was the derby triumph at Arsenal, then qualification for the Champions League's last 16 with victory over Werder Bremen and now this. For Liverpool, though, there was disbelief and that familiar sinking feeling away from home.
They had sought to nullify Bale by any means possible – three of their players were booked for challenges on him – and they had largely succeeded. But Tottenham have plenty of other creative threats and the victory owed much to the penetration of Modric and Lennon.
For so long it had looked like being one of those days for Tottenham. Van der Vaart's loss was compounded by that of Younes Kaboul to a hip injury and, when the home side did create chances, they were thwarted by goalline clearances. Defoe was denied by Carragher in the first half at 0-0; Bale by Raul Meireles in the second half at 0-1.
Defoe's penalty miss had Redknapp beside himself with frustration on the touchline. He leapt into the air before he turned his back from the action. Despair, however, would give way to delight.