Football: Desperate Francis on the brink

Liverpool 4 McManaman 48, Leonhardsen 50, Redknapp 65, Owen 86 Tottenham Hotspur 0 Attendance: 38,006
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The Independent Online
There used to be a statistic that Tottenham Hotspur had not won at Anfield since the Titanic sank. If they are not careful and continue to ship goals so meekly, they could become the biggest thing to go down since.

Their third consecutive Premiership defeat, coming in a run of only one win in 10 games, has edged them yet closer to the relegation places and has made the position of their manager Gerry Francis even more uncomfortable. "Bye bye, Gerry," sang a section of the Spurs support.

Francis himself is only too aware of the situation and after the match said that he would be reviewing it in the next fortnight with Alan Sugar. "As a manager you have your personal pride. This is the worst start I have had and I want to sit down with Alan and see where we are going.

"Thirteen points from 14 games is not good enough for Tottenham and we need to change it one way or another. There are thousands of fans who follow Spurs round the country and they are not getting what they deserve."

Asked if he had considered resigning, he replied: "I haven't yet. We will see in a week." It did sound like the first paragraph of a "Dear John" letter.

Once the disappointment of heavy defeat has eased, though, Francis may may take consolation from the position of his Liverpool counterpart Roy Evans. Only a few weeks ago Anfield was uttering similar grumbles. Now they have five home league wins in succession and have moved up to sixth in the table. "Gerry's had a million injuries but when they are all back they will be a force to be reckoned with," Evans offered as support.

If it was for Liverpool similar to the last home game against Derby County when they struggled initially before ultimately striding to the same scoreline, so it was for Tottenham akin to many of their performances here before they ended their unenviable record in 1985.

With Sol Campbell outstanding in defence, Darren Anderton - making his first start for Spurs since scoring at Anfield in May - a creative influence in midfield and David Ginola dynamic going forward, Tottenham took advantage of some careless work by Liverpool and should have had a first-half lead.

John Scales saw a close-range shot blocked after Steffen Iversen's header had been kicked away by Rob Jones and, soon after, Scales shot wide from 20 yards. Nor were Spurs noticeably weakened by an early facial injury to Rory Allen - a badly gashed mouth - that brought on Chris Armstrong who had been on the bench - a fate that also befell Jose Dominguez, Andy Sinton and Ruel Fox as Spurs no longer looked top heavy with attackers but, rather, more balanced in a 3-5-2 formation.

Armstrong almost made an immediate impact, a back-heel cleverly freeing Iversen, who should have done better than shoot wide from the edge of the penalty area. Ginola, revelling at not having to compete with so many dribblers in his own team and shrugging off jeers from the home support for a bad tackle on Rob Jones, also produced a fierce shot that David James almost let slip into the net.

Liverpool had been restricted to only barely troublesome long-range shots but Tottenham must have had concerns at the interval that despite their dominance they had nothing to show for it. One sensed that Liverpool would be neither so sloppy nor so meek in the second half.

Duly Liverpool emerged with new purpose and turned the game inside out with two goals in three minutes. "Sometimes lately I think we would be better staying out on the pitch at half-time," Francis lamented. "I can only put it down to a lack of concentration."

First, Jones seized on Ian Walker's poor clearance and fed the persevering Karlheinz Riedle. He then supplied Redknapp for a low shot that the goalkeeper could not hold and an unmarked Steve McManaman had a simple tap-in. Then, with Riedle again helping the ball on, Robbie Fowler rounded Campbell and got in a shot which Walker beat out but only to Oyvind Leonhardsen on the left edge of the penalty area. After cutting inside, he despatched a left-footed shot into the corner of the net.

With Anderton tiring, Tottenham's midfield now became a wasteland through which Liverpool strode. Fowler's curling shot was deflected just over and the brave Walker - who movingly received a hug from Paul Ince and a standing ovation from the Kop for his decision to play in the week his mother died - saved another from him, the rebound clipping a post. It was only respite, though.

Stig-Inge Bjornebye found Fowler who ferried the ball on to Redknapp for the goal his perceptive passing deserved, a sharp drive from 20 yards. Finally, the energetic substitute Michael Owen replaced Riedle and grabbed the fourth, chasing down Ince's through-ball and shrugging off Walker to score his first senior goal at Anfield. It was the ruthlessness Liverpool have been seeking, the hiding Tottenham have been fearing.

Ironically, there was promise in their performance. "Judge me when I have a full-strength team," Francis has said and now he almost has. It is, though, still reaching for match-fitness. It may be unfashionable to say it these days, especially around White Hart Lane, but he should give himself at least one more month.

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