Football: Clough out of the hole into striking success

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

Sheffield Wednesday. . .0

THERE IS a rising clamour in certain quarters to bring Nigel Clough home. The last nine internationals played by Clough, one of the few Englishmen to possess the control and vision required at world level, have occurred on foreign soil, from Moscow to Chorzow, Oslo to Foxboro. Some observers feel the time is right for Clough to be awarded his first competitive game at Wembley - from the start, and not, perhaps, in the position Graham Taylor envisages.

The England manager, one of the 44,004 who witnessed Clough's match-winning debut for Liverpool, considers the versatile 27-year-old as Paul Gascoigne's understudy for the role of the hole - the link between midfield and a two-man attack. During the draw in Poland (England's opponents next month) Clough replaced Gascoigne and a sub-text is that Taylor's other players could become confused if they had two forward-minded passers to revolve around.

The solution, as Graeme Souness showed, is to deploy Clough as an out-and-out striker, in tandem with another - in Liverpool's case, the ageless Ian Rush. Already, the pair appear to have assembled a partnership full of awareness, accurate passing and quick support-work that promises to propel Souness's side far along the road to Premiership prosperity.

One move on the hour, into the teeth of a delirious Kop, was definitive Liverpool, as if all the sores of last season had healed without trace. Clough, a scorer either side of half-time, was looking for a hat-trick with Rush a willing accomplice. Jan Molby, large of frame and influence in midfield, swept play to Steve Nicol on the right; the Scot's cross was chested by Rush across to Clough and only a prompt piece of closing-down by Des Walker denied his former Forest team-mate a proper shot on target.

No matter. Liverpool were well in command by then, having seen the seeds of victory take root after 12 minutes when Carlton Palmer was dismissed for some unsolicited tatooing of Molby's inner thigh. Alan Hansen called the challenge X-certificate, if uncharacteristic of Palmer. It was fortunate that Match of the Day is screened after the 9pm watershed.

The tackle was almost a compliment, reflecting Molby's mastery of the centre-circle and its environs. Six minutes from the break, the Dane set the stage for Liverpool's opener. A six-man move, that zig-zagged up the field, began at Molby's feet and ended with Nicol slipping the ball through to Clough on the edge of the area. A turn, a step, a shot and Chris Woods was picking the ball out of the net.

Clough, who had only won once at Anfield before (and that was for Nottingham Forest's reserves), had arrived two days early for pre-season training at Melwood and his fitness and sharp reactions (a compensatory factor for any perceived shortage of pace) were obvious in the second half, beginning with a close-range second goal and finishing with him tackling back almost to his own box.

Wednesday, loyally supported throughout, had their moments up front. David Hirst was subdued but Paul Warhurst could have had a penalty after he was tripped by Bruce Grobbelaar, who had already thwarted the England hopeful with a fine tip-over. But only Clough looked true international class.

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

Liverpool (4-4-2): Grobbelaar; R Jones, Wright, Ruddock, Bjornebye; Nicol, Molby (Redknapp, 74), Whelan, Walters; Rush, Clough. Substitutes not used: Hooper (gk), McManaman.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Woods; Nilsson, King, Walker, Pearce; Worthington, Palmer, Sheridan, Bart-Williams (Hyde, 58); Hirst, Warhurst (Bright, 81). Substitute not used: Pressman (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).