Football: Evans does homework

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 3

Ruddock 20, Fowler 26, 57

Aston Villa 2

Whittingham 37, Staunton 90

Attendance: 32,158

FEW crumbled empires have been restored so quickly or so thoroughly as that at Anfield. If the new Liverpool are not charging through everything before them as in days of yore, and more importantly have not yet won anything, the swagger is back.

Considering that a year ago it was less swagger than stagger, Roy Evans has performed a remarkable task. It is not complete and although there was often a panache about their victory over Aston Villa yesterday, there were too many unforced errors for the manager yet to deserve the sobriquet 'Roy Wonder'. As for Villa, this was their fourth successive Premiership defeat and they are finding it increasingly hard to climb domestic peaks week in week out.

Liverpool began in admirable style. There was short, rapid, accurate passing, quick movement off the ball and a jaunty, swift, skilful winger in Steve McManaman. The first goal might have come in a minute. Instead, it took 21, and was one of the surprising few to have been scored in the Premiership as a result of the amended back-pass law. Garry Parker was the culprit, leaving Mark Bosnich no option but to spreadeagle himself, though there was some dispute about whether he had handled it. Chest only, according to the Villa manager Ron Atkinson. Whatever, Neil Ruddock thumped Robbie Fowler's touch from the indirect free- kick into the top of the net.

Five minutes later, Fowler scored his first goal in five Premiership matches. It was a left- footed lash from the corner of the area after Rob Jones' shot had rebounded from a defender. There it should have been over but Villa began to push through the middle and Liverpool not only stood back but gave the ball away. There was carelessness by all defenders concerned when Guy Whittingham, in the clear, put his shot beyond David James.

Briefly, thoughts of their epic triumph over Milan might have raised their game. For 15 minutes, they remembered they were there to compete and did so. Liverpool's good habits disappeared. Half-time arrived barely a moment too soon and Roy Wonder showed why many people suggest he might have been manager earlier. He regrouped his side and clearly gave them back their swagger. There was nothing of the early adventure but in the 58th minute came a third goal.

Jan Molby pushed a short pass to McManaman on the area's edge. He shoved it to Fowler on the right who was given time. He did not, by his own admission, strike it with much force but Bosnich allowed it in at the left-hand post. When asked later if his goalkeeper was still in the changing-room, Atkinson said he was still getting down to the third goal.

At the end, Villa reduced the margin after confusion between James and his central defence. The goalkeeper told them to leave the ball, they obliged and Steve Staunton arrived on the scene to poke it home.