There were scenes of shock and disbelief in the away end and tears of devastation from Luis Suarez as he left the pitch at Selhurst Park, but Liverpool have only themselves to blame.
Liverpool's defence has been saved by Liverpool's attack so often this season - but the whole thing came apart in those final minutes.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) May 5, 2014
Suarez’s goal was Liverpool’s 99th of the season and third of the night, adding to Joe Allen’s opener and Daniel Sturridge’s strike shortly after half-time.
It looked as though the Reds were on for another free-scoring night in closing down the gulf in goal difference between themselves and title rivals Manchester City.
But Liverpool have conceded 49 goals in 2013-14, and whilst their prolific attack has usually spared their blushes, their chaotic defence came back to haunt them in South London.
To concede three in the final 11 minutes of the game when cruising and in control is shell-shocking. Liverpool caved into their opponents when the game was seemingly far out of the reach of Palace.
It was as if someone had flicked a switch, and Liverpool crumbled. Lucas' passing became even sloppier and Glen Johnson forgot how to play to his position as the visitors slumped in front of a revived Palace attack.
Palace’s equaliser—the killer blow from Dwight Gayle in the 88th minute—saw a torturous display of inept defending, with Johnson and Martin Skrtel leaving gaping holes for Palace to walk through.
Jamie Carragher is so exasperated looking at how Liverpool's defence threw that away— Paul Newman (@Paul_NewmanDM) May 5, 2014
Brendan Rodgers was immediately critical of his side’s late defending, telling Geoff Shreeves of Sky Sports 1 after the game:
The dressing room is very quiet. For 75 minutes it was an outstanding performance. Very disappointing how we conceded three goals.
It was really poor defending to concede the three goals. You’ve got to manage the game better than that.
The title’s gone. We needed to win tonight to keep the pressure on. I think Man City will go on and win their two games now.
The Northern Irishman’s post-match inquest will be concerned with how it all happened, and why so quickly.
It furthers the need for a defensive facelift at Anfield in the summer, with Johnson, Skrtel and Daniel Agger (left on the substitutes' bench at Palace) all turning 30 later this year. A title-winning team needs a solid defence.
The white faces around Liverpool’s team as Mark Clattenburg blew the full-time whistle were mirrored in the traveling Kop: hands on hips, mouths wide open—sheer disbelief.
The warning signs have been there throughout the campaign, but Liverpool’s defence had until now continued to be bailed out by their attack.
It should come as no surprise to Liverpool that ultimately the Premier League may well have been lost on the defensive frailties that have been apparent all season.
Someone show Luis Suarez the league table and tell him to stop blubbering. We're going to win the League. #Believe— Propaganda-Photo.com (@propagandaphoto) May 5, 2014
But the optimists among Liverpool fans won’t stop believing until it’s over, and Manchester City now need to win their remaining games to clinch the title.