Football: Clough at the double

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The Independent Online
Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . .0

THE big kick-off - which Graeme Souness calls 'the first- day tingle in the system' - may have had more curtain-raisers than Laura Ashley, but no amount of tours, tournaments or testimonials can diminish the impact of the events that follow the initial whistle. Certainly not at a raucous Anfield yesterday, where a well- entertained crowd of 44,004, their number including Graham Taylor, witnessed the mixed fortunes of two England internationals, Nigel Clough and Carlton Palmer.

For Clough it was an opening day to remember, Souness's pounds 2.2m summer signing capping a sprightly debut with two excellent finishes to give Liverpool the perfect start to a Premiership campaign that many believe they can win. But the season's start proved a sad occasion for Palmer. Wednesday's long-legged workhorse lasted only 12 minutes before being dismissed for a late lunge on Jan Molby, which the visiting camp felt merited a yellow card at the most.

Molby had picked up possession 20 yards inside his own half when he spotted Palmer bearing down on him; the Dane duly despatched the ball forward, a move that failed to force the withdrawal of Palmer's still outstretched leg. Palmer's follow-through - his right boot catching Molby high on the thigh - was ugly, dangerous and foolhardy, given that he had already been spoken to by the referee, Gerald Ashby, for an earlier dig at Ronnie Whelan's legs.

'My first reaction was that after only 12 minutes a sending off was a bit severe,' Trevor Francis, the Wednesday manager said. 'I would have had no complaints with a booking. But the referee makes the decisions.'

Souness was equally diplomatic, though he added significantly that Molby sustained a 'thump above the knee' in the incident, forcing his second-half substitution.

The dismissal, which will keep Palmer out for three games from 28 August and places a question mark over Taylor picking him for the World Cup qualifier against Poland on 8 September, handed the initiative to Liverpool.

Wednesday's new centre half pairing, Andy Pearce and the fully restored Des Walker, had their work cut out resisting the Red hordes, and and it was only a matter of time before Liverpool's incisive passing produced an opening. Six minutes before half-time, Steve Nicol delivered the vital ball, finding Clough just inside the box. The former Forest striker, who had been taunted with chants of 'Where's your daddy gone?', silenced his blue and white striped abusers with a drive from right to left which whistled past a helpless Chris Woods.

Clough's second, after the break, owed more to his speed of thought. When Woods failed to smother a strong header from Neil Ruddock, another excellent debut-maker, Clough, off balance and under pressure, was still able to stroke the ball in.

Wednesday battled away and could have reduced the deficit but for Bruce Grobbelaar, who denied Paul Warhurst with a truly athletic tip-over. Grobbelaar then appeared to trip Warhurst in full flow, but Mr Ashby waved on play, a decision that added extra zest to the Kop's jubilations.

Liverpool (4-4-2): B Grobbelaar; R Jones, M Wright, N Ruddock, S I Bjornebye; S Nicol, J Molby (J Redknapp, 74 min), R Whelan, M Walters; I Rush, N Clough. Subs not used: M Hooper (gk), S McManaman. Manager: G Souness.

Sheffield Wednesday: (4-4-2): C Woods; R Nilsson, D Walker, P Warhurst (M Bright, 81 min), N Worthington; C Palmer, J Sheridan, A Pearce, C Bart-Williams (G Hyde, 58 min); D Hirst, P King. Sub not used: K Pressman (gk). Player/Manager: T Francis.

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Goals: Clough (1-0, 39 min; 2-0, 47 min).