AS the two teams lined up for the start of the second half at Anfield yesterday, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale shared a brief conversation on the halfway line.
Whether it be on ballot papers or on the playing field, there has been little to separate the two main protagonists for the Player of the Year accolades this season.
Forty-five minutes later, however, and it was Suarez who, not for the first time during his remarkable Anfield career, enjoyed the final word.
And with it came another compelling statement Liverpool are beginning to gain an appetite for success under Brendan Rodgers.
It was perhaps wholly apt that a foul on Suarez inside the box should pave the way for Rodgers’ men to complete a stirring comeback yesterday, given the manager’s displeasure at the unfair treatment suffered by the Uruguayan in comparison to misdemeanours from certain other players.
Steven Gerrard sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way from spot then raced down the touchline to give a high five to goalkeeping coach John Achterberg in the dugout for advice on where to despatch the penalty.
Such small details can make the difference. But there was a glaring aspect that had been used as a stick with which to bat down Rodgers’ Anfield evolution; the failure to beat a top-six side.
That sizeable shortcoming was thrillingly addressed yesterday, although it wasn’t without the help of a Tottenham Hotspur side who, having fought back from Suarez’s opener with two Jan Vertonghen strikes, then spectacularly shot themselves in the foot.
The Londoners, with Bale at the fulcrum, were underlining their top-three credentials with an increasingly dominant display until Kyle Walker’s insane backpass was pounced upon by Stewart Downing to breathe new life into Liverpool’s afternoon and, arguably, their season.
Champions League qualification will most likely remain out of reach – seven points with nine games remaining is surely too large a chasm to breach – but with fifth-placed Arsenal only two points ahead, that must be the target.
Having blown away Norwich City, Swansea City, Zenit St Petersburg and Wigan Athletic in recent weeks, yesterday demanded different qualities from Rodgers and his players, only the second Premier League game this season in which Liverpool have conceded and still won.
In truth, Rodgers’ men have played better against the leading clubs this season and failed to win. Liverpool at times struggled to cope with the pace and power of Tottenham, although Lucas Leiva and Downing led the fight to the visitors.
Philippe Coutinho was another, the young Brazilian posting another encouraging display following his two assists at the DW Stadium last week.
Coutinho was heavily involved in Liverpool’s opener on 21 minutes, a clever backheel to Jose Enrique drawing purrs of approval from the Anfield crowd before a further combination ended with the Spaniard playing in Suarez, who clipped the ball home with the outside of his right foot inside the near post of Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris.
While small in stature, Coutinho has little fear as his running battle down the win with Kyle Walker and Mousa Dembele demonstrated. But like at Wigan, his obvious tiring in the second half suggests it will take time to acclimatise to the rigours of the English game.
Coutinho had strong claims for a penalty on 27 minutes when he was tugged back by Walker as he raced to meet a low, driven Suarez cross that was parried out by Lloris.
Suarez’s goal brought up the half-century for Liverpool and was reward for a decent opening from Rodgers’ men, Tottenham restricted to a Bale free-kick unconvincingly shovelled away by Brad Jones, deputising for the injured Pepe Reina.
Jamie Carragher, notching another landmark with his 500th league appearance for the club, kept Jermaine Defoe in check but soon visitors began to take a hold in midfield, cutting off the supply line to the increasingly isolated Sturridge and bringing Bale into the match.
And the Welshman was inevitably involved as Tottenham transformed the game with two Vertonghen strikes inside seven minutes either side of the interval.
Both were poor goals to concede. Bale, left unattended having returned to the field after treatment for a bang on the head from Gerrard, crossed from the right for the Belgian centre-back to rise above Glen Johnson and head in the equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Then, on 53 minutes, a free-kick struck deep by Bale caused confusion in the area, the ball struck Daniel Agger and Vertonghen reacted quickest to lash the ball past Jones from 12 yards.
Bale threatened to run riot, rampaging down the right beyond Gerrard and Carragher and crossing for Gylfi Sigurdsson, whose shot deflected off Johnson and looped off the post.
It was a turning point. Vertonghen was fortunate to escape only a booking when deliberately handling Suarez’s intended throughball for Sturridge, but it was a gift when Liverpool drew level on 66 minutes.
Walker’s mindless crossfield backpass – echoing that of Everton’s Phil Neville the previous day – put Lloris in all sorts of trouble, and Downing nipped in to take the ball and keep his cool to finish though the legs of Vertonghen on the line.
Sturridge headed a Downing cross into the sidenetting before Tottenham imploded further on 82 minutes when another dire backwards pass, this time from Defoe, forced Benoit Assou-Ekotto into bundling over Suarez for a penalty converted by Gerrard.
Keep this up, and Liverpool won’t want the season to end.
MAN OF THE MATCH. Stewart Downing. A forceful and productive performance from the winger