BY RICHARD CAWLEY
It’s rare for Mo Salah to play the part of villain – but Liverpool’s outstanding attacker was cast in that role on Monday night.
The cold, hard facts are that the Reds attacker was at the centre of both of the Reds’ goals as they won 2-0 at Selhurst Park.
But James Milner’s first-half penalty opener enraged the locals in SE25 as Salah went down under a challenge from former Liverpool centre-back Mamadou Sakho.
There was no disputing Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s red card for bringing down Salah in full flight in the second half – marring an otherwise exemplary showing from the exciting young right-back.
And it was Salah who played the ball for Sadio Mane to turn on the afterburners and seal all three points with a late second.
Liverpool’s penalty split opinion on social media. Salah appeared to be held by Sakho before the pair came into contact again seconds later, the Egyptian spinning to the turf.
Salah’s initial reaction looked placatory as he was surrounded by red and blue shirts before he covered his mouth in discussion with Sakho and other Palace players – staying aware that his words could be lip-read.
Milner stepped up and showed no qualms about any controversy about the validity of the kick to send Wayne Hennessey the wrong way.
It was pretty much the last action of the half and Salah – whose actions for the Reds made him the standout Premier League footballer of last season – left the pitch to unprintable chants from the enraged home support.
The frustration for Palace was doubly felt due to the way in which they had restricted the visitors in that first period.
Salah had lifted over following a sublime turn by Naby Keita – wasteful by his high stands. And Keita had also tried to snuck a shot past Wayne Hennessey at his near post but the Welsh international correctly read the danger.
But that was about it from Jurgen Klopp’s side in the first half with Palace making sure they were not outnumbered on the counter and possessing a threat of their own.
Andros Townsend was really unlucky not to open the scoring with a dipping shot that crashed back off Alisson’s crossbar – the Brazilian was never going to reach it.
And Wan-Bissaka, who showed his defensive ability with a perfectly-timed tackle on Mane inside his own area, then caused major consternation down the other end but no Palace player gambled on his inviting ball across the face of goal.
Palace tried their best to find a response. Alisson produced a fine flying save to turn Luka Milivojevic’s bending free-kick around his left post.
And the Liverpool number one was called into action again as Benteke climbed higher than Virgil van Dijk to head goalward, with Wilfried Zaha correctly penalised for being in an offside position.
Salah was immune to any criticism as he continued to test Palace. Jeffrey Schlupp headed one of his shots away from the diving Hennessey – and luckily it did not deviate into his own net.
And the Palace goalkeeper had to tip a Salah header over his crossbar.
By that stage Roy Hodgson’s men were a man light following Wan-Bissaka’s red card.
Again, the moment involved Salah. He was racing through on goal when the young full-back snapped at the heels of the Reds talisman. Referee Michael Oliver was quick in flourishing the red card.
Hodgson introduced Max Meyer for his Palace debut and the German had the chance to announce himself in the English game when Zaha’s cross fell at his feet, but he could not direct the ball on target.
Liverpool got another counter at the death as they defended late pressure. Virgil van Dijk’s clearing header from a corner gave Salah the chance to release Mane and he did superbly to hold off Patrick van Aanholt, round Hennessey and slot into the empty net.