LONDON • The English Premier League can be a cruel place.
Once again, Bournemouth came away with plenty of plaudits on Monday night, as well as plenty of sympathy. The outcome, however, was another harsh defeat, this time by a Liverpool team who will be happy to be following the opposite course.
For Liverpool, it is played two, scored two, won two. For Bournemouth, it is played two, conceded two, lost two.
Eddie Howe's newly-promoted team performed confidently throughout, which must have made it all the more galling for them that Liverpool's winner - Christian Benteke's first competitive goal for the club - came with the help of a linesman's interpretation of an offside rule that was supposed to have been revised to prevent such incidents.
"It is a clear offside under the new rules," complained Howe, after Benteke's toe-poke was allowed to stand, despite Philippe Coutinho's initial attempt to get to Jordan Henderson's cross from an offside position.
Said Howe: "We were sat down by the referees before the season and told about the new rules. Our goalkeeper is clearly impacted by the player in the middle of the goal, and he was offside by about a yard and a half."
New guidelines introduced this summer state that a player is offside when he "clearly attempts to play a ball; (the ball is) close to him; and when this action impacts on an opponent".
All three elements were at play in Coutinho's action but referee Craig Pawson and his assistants awarded a goal that helped Liverpool maintain a 100 per cent start to the new season.
Adding to Howe's chagrin, Bournemouth were denied what seemed a legitimate goal in the fifth minute, when Tommy Elphick saw his header ruled out for a foul after he was harshly adjudged to have clambered over Reds defender Dejan Lovren.
Benteke will not care about the offside debate; the £32.5 million (S$71.6 million) forward will take any assistance he can get in his home debut for a new club.
His manager Brendan Rodgers, though, was almost apologetic.
"The offside ruling was changed again and it adds confusion," the Reds manager admitted.
While he could celebrate his team's slice of fortune, he would do well to recognise there was a lack of fluency and real spark to Liverpool's play.
The Reds manager chose to look at the positives in his post-match interview, lavishing praise on his match-winner.
"He was a real handful," said Rodgers of Benteke. "You've seen all the facets of his game. His hold-up play is outstanding and he's got a wonderful touch for a big guy. He can help the ball on into areas, he can take the ball in, control the game, switch the game. His touch is good. You see him linking and combining.
"Once the players get used to seeing that and working with that, that will offer us more opportunities to score goals. So it gives us a different dimension to our game."
That goal threat was on display again in the closing stages, but Benteke could only hit the crossbar from Nathaniel Clyne's cross.
A 2-0 loss would have been harsh on Bournemouth. But so too, arguably, was 1-0.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS