Dirk Kuyt proved the match-winner in a deserved Liverpool victory at Anfield
By Phil McNulty
BBC Sport at Anfield
Liverpool made up crucial ground in the race for the Premier League's fourth place with victory over Tottenham at Anfield.
Dirk Kuyt's early strike established the platform for the win in a game Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez admitted they simply could not afford to lose, leaving them only a single point behind Spurs.
And he wrapped up the three points with a twice-taken penalty in injury time after Sebastian Bassong had flattened Liverpool substitute David Ngog in the area.
Liverpool's ceaseless workrate and greater passion earned them a deserved three points, and the victory margin could have been greater had Albert Riera's second half header not hit the bar and Kuyt failed to hit the target from close range.
Ngog forced a fine save from Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes in the dying minutes and Kuyt was guilty of an awful miss as Anfield was subjected to a needlessly anxious finale before the Netherlands striker scored his second from the spot.
Benitez pleased by fans' backing
Spurs were desperately disappointing as they missed a chance to put down a marker for their ambitions of breaking into the top four, rarely applying concerted pressure to a Liverpool side stripped of their two most potent forces, captain Steven Gerrard and and striker Fernando Torres, through injury.
Manager Harry Redknapp can point to a Jermain Defoe strike that was contentiously ruled out by referee Howard Webb, leaving him still without a managerial win at Anfield in 13 visits.
It is now more than 16 years since Spurs last enjoyed a league win at one of the so-called big four of the Premier League, a damning statistic and one they would have been hoping to change when they arrived to face under-strength and struggling Liverpool at Anfield.
Instead it was Liverpool who claimed the honours, and while the win was hardly a cure for the ills that have dogged their season, they can at least feel there is now some cause for cautious optimism.
Liverpool boss Benitez's spirits will have been lifted by a banner of support on The Kop - and his team played their part as they took the lead after only six minutes.
Alberto Aquilani made a nuisance of himself on the edge of the Spurs penalty area, and when the ball fell into Kuyt's path he drilled a low right-foot finish into Gomes' bottom corner.
Liverpool may have been without injured Gerrard, but there was no shortage of industry and inspiration as Jamie Carragher led from the front impressively.
Spurs were lacking sharpness and Liverpool's greater sense of urgency was much appreciated by their fans as Anfield searched for vital signs that this season of suffering will come out of its slump.
Gomes' desire to punch as opposed to catch was causing more problems than it solved for the Spurs defence, and he almost put his side in trouble a minute before the interval when he failed to deal convincingly with Riera's corner. Kuyt saw his header scrambled off the line by Gareth Bale in the subsequent melee before Martin Skrtel fired over the top.
Spurs finally gave Pepe Reina an anxious moment in first half stoppage time when Luka Modric broke into the area, but Liverpool's keeper was equal to the task as he blocked with his legs.
Defoe thought he had equalised for Spurs in the opening moments of the second half, but the goal was ruled out - although the exact nature of the offence was not clear.
And Liverpool almost took advantage and doubled their lead after 51 minutes when Riera met Carragher's cross with a fine header, only to see it bounce back to safety off the bar.
Redknapp rues missed opportunity
Spurs appeared to have finally realised the importance of the occasion and looked to apply some pressure to Liverpool's goal, with Jermaine Jenas forcing Reina into a one-handed save following a slick exchange with Defoe on the edge of the box.
Philipp Degen inexplicably wasted the chance to get Liverpool's second when he was set free by Kuyt inside the area. The situation begged for a shot, and yet Degen chose to play a hopeless return ball that brought the threat to an abrupt conclusion.
Benitez made two changes to see Liverpool through to the final whistle, with Ngog replacing the tiring Aquilani and Maxi Rodriguez coming on for Riera. It should have been the signal for Liverpool to wrap up the win, but Ngog was halted by Gomes, who also saved well from Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Kuyt shot hopelessly over from eight yards.
Liverpool finally got the second goal they had threatened when Bassong clumsily floored Ngog in the area. He scored with his first attempt but was ordered to retake the kick after a Liverpool player encroached - and he was equally emphatic at the second time of asking.
The Kop ended singing the name of manager Benitez as some of the pressure lifted on the Spaniard with victory over one of their closest rivals for a top four place.
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