Football: Evans waits for an inevitable decision

Liverpool 1 Derby County 2
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The Independent Online
THE WORD is it's when, not if. They say even Roy Evans recognises this marriage of convenience cannot work and that he seeks an honourable separation.

Evans entered into the bizarrely arranged cohabitation with Gerard Houllier presumably fearing that the alternative meant the exit door. Now, however, it is apparent enough is enough.

Liverpool could have won this match and, had Robbie Fowler been at his sharpest, or Michael Owen been presented with the catalogue of opportunities his colleague squandered, they surely would have. But more damning than a first home defeat since February is a run of eight home games that have yielded only one win, and that the virtually single-handed demolition of a feeble Nottingham Forest by Owen.

Liverpool's advance in the Uefa Cup at the expense of a recklessly complacent Valencia camouflaged the inadequacies and disenchantment at Anfield, and victory against a patchwork Derby County might have prolonged the illusion.

Jim Smith's team exposed the truth, the undeniable reality that Liverpool are a club devoid of leadership on and off the field; a collection of talented and not so talented individuals lacking the authority, focus and cohesion to sustain a meaningful impact on the Premiership.

Rumours and conjecture about Evans' future hang over the fabled arena like storm clouds, as the board ought to have foreseen in the event of an indifferent spell. The very concept of a managerial duo was questioned from day one and, rightly or wrongly, will never be accepted inside or outside the club as a viable practice. Liverpool's hierarchy must appreciate power-sharing will always be regarded as a potential weakness and, worse still, represents a convenient cover for players content to abdicate their responsibilities.

It can be argued Liverpool's directors neglected their duty when they arrived at this compromise. As a consequence, they have merely compromised their club's prospects of long-term credibility and success. They doubtless had the best interests of the club at heart and were compassionate enough not to dump a loyal, decent and dignified servant, but the time has come to negotiate a settlement with Evans and name a sole manager.

In fairness to the players picked on Saturday, their effort and commitment were unrelenting. Fowler will probably never miss so many chances in a match again and the deeper concern is ongoing, that of his partnership with Owen. Karlheinz Riedle's return from injury will provide a short- term solution.

The shortcomings of Liverpool's defence have been well-chronicled, but any number of managers would have to be perturbed by the limitations in midfield. Jamie Redknapp's lines of communication with his team-mates, which frequently broke down on Saturday, should be fixed soon enough, and an injury to Patrik Berger inevitably damaged much of their potency. More alarming is the form of Steve McManaman and Paul Ince.

McManaman, supposedly coveted by Real Madrid, was a frustratingly peripheral figure, devastatingly elusive in the closing stages yet meekly ineffectual for much of the match.

Ince has become a desperately sad parody of the self-proclaimed "Guv'nor". The driving influence has diminished and he has been reduced to a snarling non-entity.

Evans acknowledged Liverpool's results were not good enough and that he - and, it must be supposed, Houllier - would be out there shopping around for new players. Smith recently spent pounds 300,000 to bring Kevin Harper from Hibernian and the winger, given a first start, repaid his boss with the opening goal and an exuberant performance which characterised the entire team.

Smith operated with two wide players and a central striker, Paulo Wanchope, who stretched Liverpool's defence to breaking point in the first half- hour. The irrepressible Wanchope headed the second goal and left the rest in the capable hands of the defence.

Steve Elliott's impeccably timed and executed tackle on the hapless Fowler was typical of the resistance which earned Derby their first League win at Anfield since 1970, when they were managed by the incomparable Brian Clough. Peter Taylor played a crucially important role alongside Clough, but did anyone doubt who was in control? Perhaps there is a moral in that.

Goals: Harper (0-1) 6; Wanchope (0-2) 27; Redknapp (1-2) 84.

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Heggem (Thompson, 66), Carragher, Staunton, Bjornebye; McManaman, Ince, Redknapp, Berger (McAteer, 31); Owen, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Kvarme, Harkness.

Derby County (3-4-3): Hoult; Laursen, Carbonari, Elliott; Delap (Kozluk, 73), Bohinen, Powell, Dorigo; Harper (Bridge-Wilkinson, 89). Wanchope, Burton. Substitutes not used: Launders, Christie, Poom (gk).

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Bookings: Liverpool: Berger, Redknapp. Derby: Bohinen, Kozluk, Hoult.

Man of the match: Elliott.

Attendance: 44,020.