Football: Elliott excels amid an excess of effort

Ken Jones on Monday
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The Independent Online
Among life's little complexities is the problem of the dedicated underdog who finds himself in danger of becoming an upperdog. It can be an unsettling thing. Consider Matt Elliott.

Elliott, the Leicester central defender who could make it to the World Cup finals with Scotland in his 30th year was a natural-born underdog with Charlton, Torquay, Scunthorpe and Oxford until Martin O'Neill saw a hint of the upperdog in him.

At a time when most players begin to think what life after football holds for them Elliott is playing so well that a number of better off Premier League clubs, including Liverpool, are said to believe that his late developing career could be taken even further.

If, as O'Neill insists, Liverpool's interest is nothing more than foundless speculation they must have been impressed by Elliott's form in Saturday's 0-0 draw at Filbert Street.

Liverpool have made some progress in attempting to strike a balance between possession and directness but their best efforts were thwarted by Elliott's timely interventions, none better than a tackle that denied Michael Owen.

Accepting an opportunity to get forward allowed for by Leicester's defensive system, Elliott also came close to scoring with a low right footed drive that passed only inches wide.

Elliott's advancement since joining Leicester may suggest that there are better players around in the lower leagues than people imagine but it also says something about claims that are made for the Premiership. Plenty of effort and excitement but where is the quality they are always going on about?

Five consecutive wins had taken the heat off Roy Evans and suggested that Liverpool could yet mount a serious challenge to Manchester United.

On the evidence of this match there is little to worry Alex Ferguson. Hard as Leicester worked - "they are difficult to break down," Evans stressed afterwards - Liverpool put too much faith in individual initiative. Grafting out a result when things are not going well is important to a successful season but Liverpool failed to convey the impression that they can operate consistently as a cohesive unit.

Smothered in midfield, unable to launch Steve McManaman on positive runs, and with Owen and Robbie Fowler unusually quiet, Liverpool did little to encourage the idea of a team on the rise again. Thoughts of Fowler asking for pounds 50,000 a week made you wonder where the old game is going.

For Leicester, it is all effort and hope that a goal will come from somewhere, if not from a free-kick then a corner or a long throw-in. Emile Heskey was up front alongside Ian Marshall, whose legs are tiring. Steve Guppy's centres from the left gave Liverpool plenty of problems, but who was going to attack them?

However, Leicester often looked the most likely winners, pressing Liverpool into giving away possession with a frequency that would have appalled old Anfield hands. The sight of Liverpool's defenders streaming back to deal with counter-attacks that developed out of carelessness did not make for a bright future.

No shape, no clear understanding made Liverpool look ordinary. McManaman seldom found anywhere to go and Fowler dropped deeper and deeper. Once so eager to support attacks that his discipline was often questioned, Paul Ince seldom ventured forth, adding to the suspicion that he too has grown leg weary.

O'Neill's assertion that Leicester created the best chances was probably about right but in truth neither team deserved to take maximum points from a match that did nothing for the Premier League's telly promoted reputation.

At the end there was a standing ovation. I wondered about this. Did it indicate a gap in the education of today's football supporters? On the other hand maybe people were on their feet in appreciation of Elliott the upperdog.

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Kamark, Elliott, Walsh, Savage, Lennon, Parker, Izzet, Guppy (Cottee, 86). Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Prior, Fenton, Wilson.

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; McAteer, Matteo, Babb, Harkness, McManaman, Ince, Redknapp, Leonhardsen, Fowler, Owen (Berger, 78). Substitutes not used: Jones, Carragher, Murphy, Friedel (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Leicester: Elliott. Liverpool: McAteer.

Man of the match: Elliott.

Attendance: 21,633.

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