Football: Bassett times it just right: Springtime escapologists outpass Evans' pass masters

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The Independent Online
Liverpool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Sheffield United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

WHAT is it about spring and Sheffield United? They serve up rubbish for seven months but as soon as putting the clocks forward becomes imminent they race ahead, too. BST at Bramall Lane stands for Blades Start Travelling.

This win, the first away from home this season, means they have lost only one of their last nine matches and are on an unprecedented roll of successive victories. They are still in the relegation zone, of course, but they always are until Dave Bassett performs his annual escapology act. It is easier to drop Mike Tyson than this lot.

It is all so predictable that it ought to be boring but United are making pulses race at the moment. Against West Ham on Monday they overcame a two-goal deficit and at Anfield they outpassed the club that used to be pass masters. Route One, it seems, is about as up to date for them as the Fosse Way.

'We gave Liverpool too much respect in the first half,' Bassett said. 'We needed to show more of our personality. We got ourselves thinking along the right lines and fortunately things fell for us.'

Bassett was being generous because fortune played little part in their first win at Anfield for 26 years, although personality, particularly Liverpool's schizophrenic tendency, did.

A goal ahead after three minutes, they strutted about before the interval with the air of men who could score at will. Instead, Ian Rush's immaculate strike from Jamie Redknapp's pass - a chest down and shot in less time than it takes to say 'God help Liverpool without him' - was all they had to show.

Simon Tracey made two excellent saves from John Barnes and Steve McManaman and probably expected to make many more in the second half, but he was virtually redundant.

Jostein Flo is 6ft 4in and is about as hard to miss as a horde of pillaging Vikings, but Liverpool's defence managed to lose the Norwegian striker twice. There were extenuating circumstances for the first United goal as Adrian Littlejohn had caused havoc with a turn and run past Steve Nicol that hinted that a distinguished career may be nearing its close. But the second was negligence of the highest order.

Franz Carr beat Nicol on the left and floated a cross towards the near post. Where Neil Ruddock and Julian Dicks were was a mystery, but Littlejohn and Flo were on their own as the latter headed past James.

'It felt like I was manager of two different teams,' Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, said. 'We lost our discipline. We lost our shape. It has always been the Liverpool way that we play for the full 90 minutes. We will not accept the second-half performance.'

Bassett, meanwhile, was priming his audience for the grand finale. 'This will put extra pressure on Southampton and Everton,' he said with ill-disguised glee before adding, 'but we can't worry too much about what other teams are doing.'

No, it's April. The time when Blades spread anxiety, not harbour it.

Goals: Rush (3 min) 1-0; Flo (46) 1-1; Flo (72) 1-2.

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Jones, Nicol, Ruddock, Dicks; McManaman, Redknapp, Whelan (Thomas, 73), Barnes (Hutchison, 76); Rush, Fowler. Substitute not used: Grobbelaar (gk).

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Tracey; Bradshaw, Gayle, Tuttle, Nilsen; Carr, Rogers, Gannon, Whitehouse; Flo, Littlejohn. Substitutes not used: Hodges, Blake, Bibbo (gk).

Referee: T Holbrook (Walsall).