Football: Disintegrating dynasty's foreign flaw: Missions of Mersey / Liverpool's woes continue apace against ordinary Dons while Everton leave it to Cottee to start revival

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ONE win in 10 games, and the bookmakers are shortening the odds against Liverpool's first relegation for nearly 40 years

(8-1), and the dismissal of Graeme Souness as manager (6-4). The House of Windsor is not the only dynasty in crisis.

That rotational sound emanating from Merseyside is either Bill Shankly, spinning in his grave, or the turning of Tommy Smith's stomach.

The season's mid-point finds the most enduringly successful club in the history of English football out of all the cup competitions, including Europe, and with nothing but security in the Premier League to play for. Strange days, indeed. The end of an era.

Having blamed just about everyone - referees, the players and finally himself - Souness has run out of reasons or excuses, and ducked the post-match press conference after Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Wimbledon.

Presumably, the mortifying sight of Liverpool outfought (predictably) and then outplayed (embarrassingly) by a team 21st in the League had left him speechless. It should have.

All that talk about mercenary players lacking Liverpool's traditional passion for the game will have gone down well on the Kop, where they were looking for scapegoats after the club's worst FA Cup result of modern times, but it begged an obvious question.

If local pride is what Souness is after, does he really expect to find it in Scandinavia? Torben Piechnik and Stig Bjornebye are looking as ill-suited to English football as Ian Rush was to Italian, and are probably just as keen to get home.

Commitment to the cause? Foreign imports are committed, first and foremost, to earning the next lucrative move when their contract is up, if not before. Take the money and run.

If it was clenched-fist application he wanted, Souness would have done better to keep Ablett and McMahon, Staunton and Houghton. Instead, it is Bjornebye and Piechnik, Wright and Walters. There are not too many Tommy Smiths out there.

It is not just the iron that is missing from Anfield, of course. Injudicious, if not panicky, buying and selling has killed the continuity prized above all else by previous regimes, and the telepathic interplay - the uncanny first-time passing and intuitive running off the ball - has gone with it.

Few of us expected to see the day, but Liverpool have become just another team. And not a very good one, at that. They have gone back so far, outplayed by Bolton and Wimbledon and thrashed 5-1 by Coventry, that it needs another 'Shanks' to galvanise them all over again.

Straw polls conducted by the Merseyside media suggest the supporters no longer regard Souness as the man for the job, but alternatives are as few as easy points. Kevin Keegan, an obvious choice, has declared himself a non-runner, preferring to complete the resurrection of Newcastle United, and with Tyneside's Messiah removed from contention, the directors will probably stick with the devil they know. For the time being.

History favours the incumbent, Liverpool last sacking a manager when Phil Taylor gave way to Shankly in 1959. Mind you, it would not take too many more performances likes those of the last week to force their hand.

In its way, Saturday's defeat was just as ominous as the Bolton debacle, Liverpool rolling over and dying at the first sign of adversity. Lawrie Sanchez, their executioner in the 1988 Cup final, was scathingly succinct. 'Once we got the first goal, their heads started to go down, and after that there was never any doubt who was going to win the game. Their confidence has gone.'

Wimbledon, next to bottom, and as ordinary as that status would suggest, should have scored four.

Liverpool began well enough, and were much the brighter side for the first half-hour, but without Rush and Rosenthal they had no one to finish off some pleasing approach work. Good chances were spurned by Hutchison, Walters and Barnes, and when shoulders sagged in disappointment, the tide turned.

Sanchez might have opened the scoring a little earlier, heading weakly, but after 36 minutes Wimbledon were ahead, when Steve Cotterill's smart turn panicked Piechnik into pulling him down and Fashanu made short work of the penalty.

The Dane, who is finding English football anything but a Piechnik, limped off immediately, leaving Bjornebye to make the next cringe-inducing mistake. The Norwegian is getting an Ian Rush reputation in reverse. After six appearances, Liverpool have yet to win with the poor old Stig in the side, and when his crass error let in Neal Ardley, compassion demanded David James's sprawling save.

James, restored in goal at Mike Hooper's expense, was again a pounds 1.5m curate's egg, further distinguishing himself by denying Sanchez and Fashanu, but beaten when Sanchez bounced a header against his bar, and nowhere when Bjornebye cleared off the line from the livewire Cotterill.

If those chances indicate it was all Wimbledon, the impression is a fair one. Liverpool's deterioration had been such that they managed only one goal attempt in the second half, Rob Jones warming Hans Segers's hands from 20 yards. By that stage it was 2-0, and all over, Cotterill having scored from near the penalty spot when James lost the ball under Robbie Earle's robust challenge.

Joe Kinnear, whose team won 3-2 at Anfield in September, toasted a notable double, but echoed so many other managers in admitting: 'The Liverpool we beat is not the Liverpool of old.'

Questions had to be asked about their attitude when they fell behind, and a suspect central defence, Kinnear added. Talk of them going down was 'a load of bollocks', though. They were too good for that.

Famous last words. Much the same was said of his old Tottenham team in 1977, not to mention Manchester United in 1974, and West Ham much more recently.

If Liverpool, in their present distress, do stay up, it will be because of the ineptitude of others.

Goals: Fashanu pen (36) 1-0; Cotterill (63) 2-0.

Wimbledon: Segers; Joseph, Elkins, Cotterill, Scales, Blackwell, Ardley, Earle, Fashanu (Holdsworth, 89), Sanchez, Clarke (Talboys, 73). Substitute not used: Sullivan (gk).

Liverpool: James; Marsh, Jones, Stewart, Piechnik (Harkness, 38), Wright, Walters (Rosenthal, 75), Redknapp, Hutchison, Barnes, Bjornebye. Substitute not used: Hooper.

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).

(Photograph omitted)

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