Ref justice but same old flaws

SO, another "football, bloody hell" finale! A madcap denouement that encapsulated the drama of the Premier League and the essence of the two sides: both magnificent but flawed works in manically frustrating progress.

Contrast the moods of Liverpool and Spurs at the end and you'd have thought Liverpool had lost and Spurs had won. But that's how it is when victory is snatched from you – the snatcher "victorious" even with a draw while the victim feels as if he's been mugged.

Liverpool had much justification for feeling as if they'd lost their wallet while the two men who took it bore a striking resemblance to referee Jon Moss and his assistant Eddie Smart. And even after we've heard "experts" claim they got the decisions right, the sense of grievance refuses to go away.

More on the controversies later but Kopites should not allow anger to cloud their judgment on what was another typical Liverpool performance. Nor should Spurs fans kid themselves they are becoming any less Spursy. Indeed, for all the sound and fury, "crazy money" spent and not spent in the window, their performances were very much "same old".

Buoyed by an early goal from the amazing Mo Salah, Liverpool did look more solid in the first half. Virgil van Dijk was a commanding presence, Dejan Lovren had put his Wembley nightmare behind him and Trent Alexander-Arnold was back to his exciting best. Even Loris Karius was looking more assured.

Even so, Spurs had more possession and were impressively unruffled by having made such a bad mistake so early. One of the sleeping pills United took in midweek seemed to have slipped into Eric Dier's pre-match tea.

The defender has become accident-prone of late and, coupled with Dele Alli's loss of form and reversion to the dark arts, it means that while Spurs as a whole have occasionally soared to greater heights, progress is being stymied because two of their erstwhile stars are dragging them back.

They've also been hampered by the loss of Toby Alderweireld in central defence and the protection that Victor Wanyama gives it.

And even though brilliant wins over Real Madrid and United have highlighted their potential, their trajectory is likely to take a dip. After finishing third and second in successive seasons, this time they'll have their work cut out to make the top four.

That said, they were bossing the game long before Wanyama's wonder goal. Jurgen Klopp had shown respect for his opponents by opting for a "safer" midfield with James Milner and Jordan Henderson doing the hard yards.

But there's too much of the journeyman about both for any real invention and, at risk of restating the obvious: they missed Coutinho - the Fab Three were feeding on scraps; and Van Dijk can't fix the defence by himself.

Liverpool fans know this only too well and viewers did not need former Red Jim Beglin to tell us there was a mounting unease around Anfield in the second half. Liverpool couldn't keep the ball and the Kop had noticed.

The unease became outright anger when Wanyama's freaky strike went in and then another familiar moan was heard: about the keeper! Karius had shown bravery and better positioning but what was he doing with that cross?

He was unfortunate that it was returned with an Exocet missile attached, but his punching was hardly Mike Tyson. And whatever happened to that quaint old-fashioned idea of catching the ball?

Even at 1-1, Klopp was facing an inquest and all the old chestnuts were back on the fire: why not buy a top keeper? Why not buy a striker? Why not spend the Coutinho money? And they have become more pertinent now that Spurs, with whom Liverpool are often compared in terms of spending power, have acquired Lucas Moura for an eminently sane £25 million (RM137.69 million) and even Arsenal have at long last splashed the cash.

Indeed, the anger may have boiled over had all three points been thrown away. But Harry Kane initially spared the manager's blushes. "Poetic justice" cried many as he fluffed the penalty that he had dubiously "won" by going over Karius's outstretched arm. At first glance it looked a pen but the more you saw it, the more it looked like a perfectly timed dive.

At that point, on this roller-coaster Anfield evening, the prevailing emotion was monumental relief, and when Salah wriggled his way through a posse of Spurs defenders on the line to plant firmly past Hugo Lloris all was forgotten.

Klopp's celebration was as if the European Cup had been won – no doubt owing as much to a sense of vindication as admiration for a truly Messiesque goal.

And so to the final act and the second pen that the referee initially did not award. Eric Lamela produced an Oscar-winning dive and an expression from a medieval torture chamber after the merest contact from Van Dijk. The assistant duly flagged. After much discussion, a pen was given and this time Kane made no mistake.

Liverpool's sense of grievance was not helped by Moss having done little to dispel the memory of his sending off of Sadio Mane at City back in September. He's not biased – but it can seem like it sometimes. Nor would VAR have helped – the Lamela incident could be seen a dozen times and you wouldn't be sure.

As for the first pen, Kane was clearly in an offside position but the officials ruled that he wasn't interfering with play because Lovren got a touch to Ali's pass!

Yes, FIFA changed the rules and a player cannot be adjudged offside if he's not actively involved with play. We have to ask: How can he be deemed "not actively involved" if the ball is passed to him and he is able to pounce on it a second later?

Brian Clough once quipped: "If any of my players are not interfering with play, they wouldn't be on the field". Indeed. There was also an hilarious skit that "tried" to explain the rule. That it was done by John Cleese tells you all you need to know.

Blame the officials but not for everything – Liverpool were robbed but even if they had won, those chestnuts would still be smouldering. And on the play, a draw was about right anyway.

• Bob's latest book, Living the Dream, is available at Borders, MPH, Popular, Kinokuniya and Gerakbudaya bookstores.