Football: Evans needs to finish his renovation: Liverpool make little impression

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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL fans will be reflecting on past glories even more than usual this week as they enviously watch half a dozen other English clubs enjoy the thrills of European football. After 23 seasons in Europe - broken only by the post- Heysel ban - they are fidgeting on the sidelines for the second successive season and the experience is not getting any easier for becoming familiar.

Neither, after Saturday's goalless draw against a depleted West Ham, is it yet eased by a sense of confidence in the future. Three wins out of three, followed by an impressive double coup in the transfer market, had engendered a cautious optimism at Anfield. Saturday revealed caution, rather than optimism, to be the most appropriate sentiment at present. Like the new Kop, Roy Evans' Liverpool remains only half-built.

This is partly, suggested Evans, because construction had been hampered by the midweek loss of most of his team on international duty, including his record signing Phil Babb.

Evans intends to use Babb, his fellow newcomer John Scales and the incumbent Neil Ruddock together in central defence, though it is not yet clear who, in this near- pounds 10m trio, will be doing what. Since Babb only arrived at Anfield on Friday, after touring Latvia with the Republic of Ireland, Evans was forced to limit his tinkering to the introduction of Scales in place of Steve Nicol in a standard back four. Babb remained on the bench.

He is likely to be playing soon, not least because West Ham, having arrived at Anfield with just a penalty goal to their name in four outings, could have scored three times, even after Tony Cottee was sent off for a reckless foul.

Cottee's dismissal, after 50 minutes, stemmed from Liverpool's defensive frailty. He, the busy Peter Butler and the neat John Moncur played a series of short passes around a bemused Ruddock and Scales, which ended with Cottee 35 yards from goal and in the clear.

Rob Jones, chasing back, appeared to clip his ankles but the referee Paul Danson ignored Cottee's appeals as Jones moved to clear. Had the ball been quickly dispatched that would have been the end of it but, as Jones sought a telling pass, Cottee came in with a late, lunging tackle born of blind rage. His remorse, though instant, could not prevent the inevitable. It was an unfortunate return; his first West Ham debut, 11 years ago, had ended with a goal.

Liverpool, previously lethargic - Evans again blamed international duty - now stirred, going close twice in four minutes. First, the recovered Jones floated a cross to Robbie Fowler, who turned smartly and cracked a shot against the bar. Then John Barnes dribbled down the left but put his cross just out of Ian Rush's reach.

Though Barnes later hit the post with a powerful 25-yard drive, and Stig Inge Bjornebye had a rising shot from similar range turned wide by Ludek Miklosko, Liverpool struggled to create chances closer in. Though Ruddock, sweeping forward imperiously, constantly began moves, Liverpool, with Jan Molby anonymous and Jamie Redknapp fitful, lacked the penetration to pierce what had become a nine- man defence.

Not that West Ham were afraid of venturing forward. But while they created chances the man who could have taken them was off the pitch. Instead, Matthew Rush, freed by Butler, shot when he should have pulled the ball back to Moncur; Tim Breacker put a free header wide from a corner and Moncur thumped a Matthew Rush cross into David James' midriff.

At one point their supporters - many of whom had been fortunate to miss the atrocious first half due to motorway delays - chanted: 'We're going to win the League.' Liverpool's fans, their frustration being increasingly communicated to the players, could not even summon the ire to deride them.

The West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, who is continuing to search for another striker, will now be without Cottee for three matches while Don Hutchison's suspension has a game to go. A long winter beckons, but the spirit is commendable.

For Liverpool fans even the news from Ewood Park was only of limited consolation. Nice as it is to see Everton beaten and bottom of the table, even the most avid Red appreciated that Blackburn are the greater threat to his team's aspirations.

Mind, Everton's defeat does improve Liverpool's chances of winning - nay, retaining - at least one piece of silverware this season. However, the embarrassed look on Roy Evans' face in the 'football pink' as he held aloft the Liverpool Echo's Champions of Merseyside Trophy (awarded for being the highest placed of Everton, Liverpool and Tranmere) suggested it is not exactly his highest priority. Still, he now has a week free of matches in which to plan for bigger prizes.

Liverpool (4-3-3): James; Jones, Scales, Ruddock, Bjornebye; Redknapp, Molby, Barnes; McManaman, I Rush, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Babb, Clough, Stensgaard (gk).

West Ham United (4-5-1): Miklosko; Breaker, Martin, Potts, Rowland; M Rush, Butler, Allen, Moncur, Marsh; Cottee. Substitutes not used: Whitbread, Chapman, Feuer (gk).

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

(Photograph omitted)