Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
THERE WAS so much talk of the sick, the lame and the over-stressed at Wembley yesterday, that the occasion of the FA Charity Shield might have been a mass faith-healing. Instead, it was a healthy, vital affair in which Leeds, the League champions, were inspired by three goals from their Frenchman, Eric Cantona, to overcome a depleted but splendidly determined Liverpool in a match that the disorganised people of the new Premier League hardly deserved as a prelude to the new season.
The summer break had again been too short. Leeds had just about recovered, but for Liverpool last season's injuries persisted and they had to start the new term as if there had been no respite. It was all reminiscent of Graham Taylor's 'mend and make do' England in the European Championship. In spite of this exciting preamble, the first season of the Premier League will be no different from the last of the First Division. In the end, stamina, strength and the avoidance of injuries will count for more than skill and imagination.
So Liverpool appeared without Jones, Barnes, McManaman or Molby. Leeds were lacking only Mel Sterland but not all were 100 per cent. Injuries notwithstanding, the Liverpool Graeme Souness led out was so different from even a few months ago that it symbolised the difference between the club of today and the era when change at Anfield was a suspicious word.
Liverpool's deprivations led them to play only three men at the back, which obviously left gaps. Mark Wright, with much to prove this season, was obviously keen to close all of the gaps that he could, and his slamming of doors across the penalty area was essential to their early holding of a much more comfortable Leeds side.
Gary Speed had been given the freedom of the pitch and used it well for Leeds, but there were reservations about the end product of his valuable work. Lee Chapman was comfortably controlled by Wright, and it was not until the 23rd minute that Leeds finally accepted the openings offered. Cantona, always hovering threateningly in the space ahead of Liverpool's defence, was likely to do the unexpected.
When David Batty eventually exposed the openings, Rod Wallace chased his good through pass and turned the ball across the goalmouth. Cantona easily found space, and when the ball came across he calmly placed it past Bruce Grobbelaar. The game blossomed in response. It became something brighter than these occasions so often offer. Liverpool gathered their wits and, after clever possessional work, Ronny Rosenthal lobbed a high cross which, from a typically well-spotted space, Ian Rush headed in.
Excellent work by Mark Walters kept Liverpool looking more hopeful than they may have expected, but Rosenthal put a blemish on his earlier contribution when a foul by Wright on Wallace resulted in Speed knocking the ball to Tony Dorigo, who slammed it in off Rosenthal's back.
In the circumstances, Liverpool were probably not dissatisfied with their situation. Ronnie Whelan's reappearance in the midfield was comforting, though the selling of Ray Houghton was a dangerous gamble. By comparison, Leeds' midfield this season will be a place of fierce competition. Yesterday they felt able to leave both Gordon Strachan and the newcomer from Arsenal, David Rocastle, on the bench, and were not exposed.
Both managers had spoken of this being a 'friendly' pre-season amble. Clearly the message had not reached the staff. In spite of the humidity, this was one of the most competitive preludes seen in many a season.
Liverpool might have thought that, all things considered, a narrow defeat would not be too hard to bear. Instead, here was Souness leaping to his feet as if something more than pride was at stake. His decision to move Dean Saunders from a position wide on the right to the centre could have been decisive. A ball rebounding from Walters brought Saunders into his favoured position in the middle of the penalty area and he drove the ball into the top corner to equalise.
Cantona, of course, was the player who could add the final touch of brilliance to a splendid day. He won the ball in the air and knocked it down for Wallace, who played it back for the Frenchman to shoot in. But it was not the final break. With two minutes remaining, Wallace regained the ball after it hit the corner flag, lifted a centre and there was Cantona to head in his third, only for Wright to hit a low shot towards the Leeds goal line and Strachan, who had only been on for a minute, to mis-kick over his own line but without danger to the outcome.
Leeds United: J Lukic; J Newsome (G Strachan, 85 min), T Dorigo, D Batty, C Fairclough, C Whyte, E Cantona, R Wallace, L Chapman (S Hodge, 80 min), G McAllister, G Speed. Manager: H Wilkinson.
Liverpool: B Grobbelaar; N Tanner, D Burrows, M Marsh (D Hutchinson, 77 min), R Whelan, M Wright, D Saunders, P Stewart, I Rush, R Rosenthal (I Kozma, 87 min), M Walters. Manager: G Souness.
Referee: D R Elleray (Middlesex).
Goals: Cantona (1-0, 23 min); Rush (1-1, 34 min); Dorigo (2-1, 43 min); Saunders (2-2, 66 min); Cantona (3-2, 77 min); Cantona (4-2, 88 min); Strachan og (4-3, 89 min).
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