Football: Anfield's attack of anxiety

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 1

Collymore 1

Wimbledon 1

Leonhardsen 67

Attendance: 39,027

Liverpool must be beginning to dislike playing in November almost as much as they dislike playing Wimbledon. Last year they took just one point from four games in the month, and, though the tally is better this year, this home draw coupled with the one in midweek against Everton frustrated Liverpool's ambitions to leapfrog Newcastle and put more distance between themselves and the reigning champions Manchester United.

Liverpool could not complain about their start, nor about the man who delivered it. Stan Collymore, playing in place of Steve McManaman whose hamstring injury interrupted a run of 106 consecutive games, was officially clocked at 33sec for his goal. He was played in by Robbie Fowler's flick but Dean Blackwell's error on a slippery surface was the crucial factor in letting the ball through to Collymore, who took the chance with the confidence of a man boosted by manager Roy Evans' apparent deter- mination to hang on to him.

Collymore was Liverpool's main threat, and he might easily have added goals in Liverpool's best period of the game between the 20th and 30th minutes of the first half. But Blackwell made up for his early error by clearing Collymore's shot off the line after Chris Perry had fluffed a backpass, and the striker was thwarted again when his curling shot drifted over the bar.

By half-time there was an uneasy feeling around Anfield that the early goal would not be enough, an anxiety compounded by the head injury to Dominic Matteo after an aerial collision with Robbie Earle. Matteo, who needed five stitches to the wound, was stretchered off and can expect sympathy cards from Arsenal's Steve Bould and Tony Adams, who have suffered similar fates against Wimbledon.

"You can't give Liverpool the initiative," the Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear said before rousing his men at half-time by insisting that "we could still get something out of this game if we dig in". Kinnear pushed up his full-backs and the supply of passes to Collymore began to dry up. McManaman's ability to penetrate a defence became increasingly missed as Liverpool got bogged down in midfield.

"There's no point in us throwing balls forward in hope," Roy Evans said afterwards. "We have to stick to the passing game. Even though we are not firing on all cylinders we are still up there, but the team and the crowd are understandably anxious because we know we can do better."

Wimbledon plainly fed on this anxiety despite the arrival of Patrik Berger for Michael Thomas just after the hour, and within two minutes of the Czech's arrival the Dons were level. Evans called it a "silly goal" but it was better than that as Neal Ardley's pass and some trickery from Earle and Marcus Gayle set up an easy score for Oyvind Leonhardsen. The crowd feared the worst given their past experiences of Wimbledon, but Liverpool hung on to the point thanks to some no-frills defending from Neil Ruddock and the inexhaustible runs of Jason McAteer.

The Irish wing-back might have won the game as he burst through the cover to blast a shot which Neil Sullivan beat away. Wimbledon's other moment of worry came in the final seconds as Berger fired in a shot that Sullivan allowed to slip through his hands before turning to drop on the ball as it rolled towards the line. Even the Kop cannot suck them in for Liverpool these days.