BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Premier League leaders Liverpool pulled off another extraordinary comeback to win 2-1 at Aston Villa on Saturday with late headed goals from Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane.
Desperate for a first Premier League title after coming so close last season, Liverpool’s latest win put them on 31 points, six above Manchester City who won 2-1 at home to Southampton.
Liverpool host Manchester City next weekend.
The Merseysiders had appeared to be heading for a shock first league defeat of the season after a 21st-minute goal by Villa winger Mahmoud Hassan, known as Trezeguet, who neatly volleyed home from a curling free kick by midfielder John McGinn.
But defender Robertson popped up in the 87th minute to meet a superb cross from Mane and steer the ball past goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Then Mane brilliantly flicked in a corner during added time to send the travelling Liverpool fans into delirium.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp came on to the pitch at the end, hugging his relieved players in front of their supporters.
“We made it difficult for ourselves. Aston Villa were ready for a proper fight, a proper battle,” he said.
“If one team deserved to win the game, it’s us, but I can imagine how bad Aston Villa feels. With all they did, they will feel they deserve something, that’s the way it goes.”
The result was harsh on promoted Villa, leaving them three points above the relegation zone.
Despite missing injured talisman and captain Jack Grealish, Villa played with a surprisingly high tempo and pressed from the off. They could have been ahead within 60 seconds when Anwar El Ghazi fired straight at keeper Alisson Becker from close range.
But Liverpool, who also came back from a goal behind to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 last week at Anfield, showed enormous self-belief and poured forward relentlessly in the second half.
Mane, booed every time he touched the ball after appearing to dive in the Villa penalty area, was Liverpool’s driving force, missing a header in the first half then seeing Heaton save a couple of chances in the second prior to his winner.
“It was a perfect delivery from the corner and in the end I was even a bit lucky the ball went in,” Mane said.
“Today was not our best performance but we deserved the three points... Aston Villa have been the team that pushed us harder so far, that’s why this is the best league in the world, every single game can be like this one.”
Had they not won, Liverpool would have been seething at a first-half decision by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system that ruled out a potential 28th-minute equaliser by Roberto Firmino. The video showed it was a very tight decision.
Villa manager Dean Smith said he thought it was a goal, but added that his team had endured “gnat’s-hair goals” ruled out also in other games. He praised Villa’s overall performance but was enormously disappointed at the late drama.
“Unfortunately you’ve got to go 96, 97 minutes against the top teams, with your concentration,” he said.
“It’s just disappointing when you’re in the 87th minute one goal up and then you come away with nothing.”
Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon