Luis Suarez edged the battle of the player of the year contenders as he scored and earned the match-winning penalty to eclipse Gareth Bale and keep Liverpool’s slim top-four hopes alive.
The Premier League’s leading scorer drew first blood with his 29th of the season – and 22nd in the top flight – and, although his opposite number had a hand in both of Tottenham’s goals, the Uruguay international had the last laugh by winning the late spot-kick from which Steven Gerrard scored.
Centre back Jan Vertonghen had scored twice after Suarez had put the home side ahead only for calamitous misjudgements by Kyle Walker and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to gift Stewart Downing the equaliser.
Thriller: Steven Gerrard scored a late penalty as Liverpool won a dramatic match 3-2 at Anfield
The Wales international drilled in an early swerving free-kick which Brad Jones, back in the side because of Jose Reina’s calf injury, batted away unconvincingly but then had to cede centre-stage to Suarez.
Philippe Coutinho, who impressed last week at Wigan and had already curled a shot over, combined well down left with Jose Enrique, starting the move with a cheeky backheel.
The pair then exchanged passes before Enrique, holding off Walker, slid a perfectly-weighted pass for Suarez to run onto and surprise Lloris at his near post with the outside of his right foot.
Bale’s response was to plant one left-footed shot into the Kop and then drive an angled right-footed effort wide.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, who rejected a summer move to Anfield, missed an even better opportunity from Bale’s flick as he shot wide of Jones’ right-hand post with only the goalkeeper to beat.
First strike: Luis Suarez prodded the ball past the onrushing Hugo Lloris to give Liverpool the lead
On top: Suarez’s goal was Liverpool’s reward for a strong start at Anfield
Prolific: The Premier League’s leading scorer Suarez netted his 22nd goal of the campaign
Suarez had been receiving particularly close attention from the visitors without much interest from referee Mike Oliver but when Gerrard challenged for a header with Tottenham’s flying Welshman the Reds captain was penalised by a free-kick in the centre-circle.
Bale – playing mainly through the middle – went off after treatment which allowed him to rejoin play on the right wing and this contributed, in some part, to the equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
The ball was soon worked out to him on that flank and he curled a left-footed cross over the head of Jamie Carragher, on his 500th league appearance, for Vertonghen to get in front of Glen Johnson and head inside far post.
Equaliser: Tottenham’s pressure paid off as Jan Vertonghen headed them level just before half-time
Liverpool may have been aggrieved they did not get a penalty late in the half when Coutinho appeared to be pulled back by Walker as he tried to get on the end of a cross but they had conceded 10 minutes’ of pressure to the visitors.
Bale played a part in Tottenham’s second just after the break when his free-kick was weakly headed down by Carragher to Vertonghen who fired home.
A trademark driving run by the Wales international saw him pick out Sigurdsson in acres of space at the far post but his shot was deflected onto a post by Johnson.
Deserved: Tottenham had been in the ascendancy prior to Vertonghen’s equaliserLiverpool had lost all their composure and their disposition was not helped by Jones flapping at a Moussa Dembele shot but it was Tottenham’s nerves which faltered next.
Walker’s attempted an inexplicable back-pass/crossfield ball from the right touchline which succeeded only in drawing Lloris out of his goal to clear.
When he failed Downing nipped in to advance on goal and drill a shot through the legs of Vertonghen on the line.
Double: Vertonghen lashed home his second goal in front of the travelling fans to put Spurs ahead
The pace of the game went up a notch and Sturridge headed into the side-netting and Bale nodded wide before another dreadful backpass, this time by Jermain Defoe, forced Benoit Assou-Ekotto to barge into Suarez.
Gerrard, so often Liverpool’s big man for the big occasion, stepped up to slot home his ninth of an increasingly profitable campaign.
Howler: Stewart Downing took advantage of Hugo Lloris’ blunder to fire home an eqauliser for Liverpool
Costly: Lloris rushed out of his box and missed his kick and Downing took advantage to score
Foul: Suarez was brought down by Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Michael Oliver awarded Liverpool a penalty
No mistake: Gerrard slotted home the penalty and sent Lloris the wrong way in front of the Kop
Delight: Gerrard missed a penalty at the Kop end against West Brom but made no mistake this time
Flying: Gerrard celebrates as Liverpool leapfrogged Everton in the table
Guest: Singer Lana Del Rey was in the stands at Anfield
Blank: Gareth Bale couldn’t keep his incredible goal-scoring run going