Football: Blunted Blades miss the boat

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The Independent Online
Sheffield United. . .0

Liverpool . . . . . .0

LIVERPOOL'S season continues to defy assessment. After contributing in full to a pre-Christmas feast at Tottenham, they emerged yesterday looking decidedly hung over. They might have been thrashed if Sheffield United could only remember how to score.

The blunted Blades have managed one solitary goal in their last eight Premiership matches and this was a fifth consecutive blank. And yet, as their manager, Dave Bassett, ruefully reflected, they made chances enough to have won three games. 'They should be pleased to have nicked a point,' Bassett suggested. 'They are as lucky as anything.'

With Julian Dicks back after more than two months, and Neil Ruddock returning after sitting out the 3-3 draw at Tottenham, Liverpool's

defence, nominally at full strength, should have been a rock. Dicks suffered for lack of match fitness but Ruddock had no such excuse and it was to Liverpool's relief not only that Sheffield's attack was so wasteful but that Bruce Grobbelaar's faculties, at least, were intact.

Three times the veteran goalkeeper brought off athletic saves, leaping to his right to pull down a Glyn Hodges half-volley destined for the top corner, to his left to grasp Jostein Flo's far-post header from an expertly curled Hodges free-kick, and then, after Hodges had again supplied the ammunition, stretching backwards to push Bobby Davison's looping header over the top.

Even so, the home side should have wrapped up the points before half-time. Either Flo or Davison would have scored had Mitch Ward, in the first meaningful attack, crossed in front of rather than behind them. Then Flo, racing after a ball hoofed from defence, made the mistake of passing instead of shooting with only Grobbelaar to beat; Dane Whitehouse put the ball in but was offside. Next Hodges directed a simple six-yard header wide.

Having survived to half-time, Liverpool shook themselves up enough to give Bassett visions of an injustice being done. But although Nigel Clough and Jamie Redknapp reclaimed midfield and Steve Nicol and Steve McManaman made better use of the flanks, neither Robbie Fowler nor Ian Rush could make much headway up front, the latter looking less than thrilled when he was replaced inside the last 10 minutes, moments after his first decent strike had been deflected wide.

Graeme Souness felt an icy pitch excused the need for him to judge Liverpool's performance. 'It was what Bob Paisley would call two-faced.' The description might fit his team also. Oddly bedecked in gold and black to avoid a colour clash, it was hard to decide whether they resembled Hull City or Wolves. It certainly was not Liverpool.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Bradshaw, Hoyland, Beesley, Gage; Ward (Scott, 87), Camara (Falconer, 78), Hodges, Whitehouse; Flo, Davison. Substitute not used: Muggleton (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): Grobbelaar; Jones, Wright, Ruddock, Dicks; McManaman, Redknapp, Clough, Nicol; Rush (Walters, 82), Fowler. Substitutes not used: Matteo, James (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Crewe).