Football: Berger the master of suspense

Liverpool 2 (Collymore 15, Berger 43) Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Ander ton 5) Attendance: 40,003
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The Independent Online
"It's not over until it's over," Neil Ruddock said, echoing words popular with another resurgent Red during the last few days. While Manchester United remain clear favourites for a Premiership title which will be virtually theirs if they beat Middlesbrough tomorrow, at least Liverpool ended the last Saturday programme of the season better off than they began.

Their victory yesterday evening reduces the gap at the top to three points, although Liverpool have an inferior goal difference and only two matches left. The more significant consequence is that it lifts Roy Evans' side into second, which earns a place in the Champions' League qualifying round.

The result which keeps their season alive owed a good deal to Patrik Berger, an expensive import about whom much remains unproven. His contribution on this occasion, however, encompassing the creation of one goal and the scoring of the other, may well be seen as his most effective performance in a Liverpool shirt.

Regardless of where they finish, when Liverpool carry out their campaign analysis they will be disappointed with their home record, the poorest among the leading contenders. It was as if fate were reminding them of this shortcoming when Tottenham sprang an early goal.

The initiative was seized on Tottenham's first meaningful attack and a curious goal it was, fashioned by Darren Anderton, who met Sol Campbell's cross from the left with the back of his head but somehow managed to direct it past David James and in off the far post. With only five minutes gone, the setback raised doubts about Evans' decision to retain the 4-4-2 formation which so impressed him during Liverpool's gallant failure in the European Cup-winners' Cup.

Gerry Francis named five in defence and four in midfield, but the support which Anderton and Andy Sinton offered Teddy Sheringham seemed to create problems at the centre of the home defence.

Evans resisted the temptation to unleash the precocious talents of teenage striker Michael Owen, preferring Berger as a stand-in for the suspended Robbie Fowler, despite the Czech's record of only five League goals before last night. Just as well, for it was Berger's sublime lay-off that created Liverpool's equaliser.

His redirection of Ruddock's pass was not only instant but perfectly weighted for Stan Collymore, making space for himself on the left. While Tottenham's defenders looked in vain for an offside flag, Collymore's finish was impeccable.

Liverpool's confidence soared and Tottenham's rearguard buckled again a minute before half-time. This time Berger turned executioner, bursting through in pursuit of Stig Inge Bjornebye's pass and leaving Ramon Vega on his backside before stabbing the ball past Ian Walker.

Tottenham's gamble with Walker's fitness did not come off, although his troublesome Achilles tendon was not blamed for the goals. He was replaced at half-time by debutant Espen Baardsen. In another change, David Howells, who had needed treatment twice during the first half, gave way to Ruel Fox.

The effect was a more penetrative second half from the visiting side, although Liverpool were the stronger force at the finish, when the 19- year-old Baardsen earned his money by saving well from Collymore and Jamie Redknapp.

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