Ball blunts Liverpool's cutting edge

Liverpool 0 Sunderland 0 Attendance: 40,503
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The Independent Online
While Liverpool relapsed into last year's occasional inability to dispose of irritating strugglers, Sunderland served notice of their own claims to be regarded as more than just nuisance value for the Premiership elite.

Kevin Ball, the Sunderland captain, tracked Steve McManaman's every twitch and was at the heart of a convincingly earned point which maintained the visitors' unbeaten start.

The Premiership new boys, however, wasted the two clearest chances of the game; Niall Quinn twice finding himself unchallenged in the area with the goal at his mercy. The Sunderland attacking philosophy was as clear as their defensive plan - to break quickly down the flanks and use the option of Quinn whenever possible.

Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, said his defence-first tactics would not be on show every week. "Their biggest threats were Stig Inge Bjornebye's dead balls. I'm not going to get carried away, but I don't think we looked out of our depth. We try to get at teams when we can, but it is difficult to get at Liverpool."

Conversely, Liverpool found it equally difficult to weave their customary intricate paths through the massed Sunderland ranks. With the cutting edge of McManaman blunted, there was precious little invention in reserve. Lack of movement was the sweeping explanation offered by Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager. "The movement was very average to say the least," he said. "It was not just the strikers - as an attacking unit our movement was poor."

As the visitors settled after a tentative start, Liverpool's build-up became more ragged. David James was called upon to justify his England squad selection with a reaction save as Quinn, who had broken free in the area, drilled a fierce shot on target.

He was also presented with an equally acceptable chance to open the scoring in the closing stages of the first half. Dominic Matteo slipped, allowing Quinn to close down on James unchallenged. Having partially evaded the goalkeeper, his shot was blocked and follow-up efforts from Paul Stewart and Michael Gray were also scrambled free.

Liverpool's appeals for a penalty were denied following attempts to remove Phil Babb's shirt in a crowded box. Michael Thomas toyed with a more direct route to no avail, while Robbie Fowler, suffering a slight back strain, was lacking in both confidence and thrust. A crisp header by John Barnes against the bar from a corner was Liverpool's best chance of the game.

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