Boot-room reunion

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THERE may be a multi-million pound gap between their squads but Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness finished up as equals at the Dell yesterday just as they had been in their Liverpool playing careers.

Matthew Le Tissier's sense of the spectacular achieved parity in a game that paid tribute to the traditions both managers picked up from Bob Paisley. It was Paisley who signed them for the Reds within five months of each other, Dalglish in August 1977, Souness in January 1978.

The Anfield influences were all over this fixture. Dalglish has Terry McDermott and Mark Lawrenson on his staff while Souness employs another Liverpool ex, Phil Boersma. The boot-room reunion must have been quite a party, although it will be Dalglish who will be nursing a slight hangover this morning after watching his new side concede a two-goal lead for the second week running.

But the passion and the intelligence which informed this game should leave no disappointment. The early stages were a replica of the training- ground routines at Liverpool's practice pitch at Melwood, as neat passing and little triangles of movement opened up the game in a delightful fashion.

After all the hoo-ha about share issues and market flotations - Newcastle will launch in March, while Southampton have already done it - one expected to find ticket touts selling share options outside the ground. The football was a welcome relief from the finance.

Dalglish had taken the field in his City gent overcoat, an appropriate uniform in the light of the club's flotation, and shook hands with Southampton's fluffy mascot to testify to his new relaxed mood. "I gave him some of my blood pressure pills before the game," Souness joked afterwards.

Dalglish had drawn applause from all around the ground on his appearance, a fair indication of the cross-party respect which he attracts throughout the game. But he must have known that he would get no favours from his old team-mate, who exemplified competitiveness when he was on the pitch, and is plainly continuing the tradition off it.

"Graeme said he thought that it was a very exciting game as we walked off at the end," Dalglish said afterwards with a smile of understatement. While both managers will have professional niggles about their respective teams' mistakes, when the blood has cooled they should both take great credit for themselves for the passion with which they infused their teams.

It was fitting that the final word should go to Le Tissier, a player who, when he wants to, can embody both the passing skills of Souness and the deadly finishing of Dalglish.