Football: Exit Cottee as the red mist descends

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 0

West Ham United 0

Attendance: 30,907

TONY COTTEE'S memories of Merseyside would have been mixed, even before his return to the city of Liverpool on his second debut for West Ham. To the six years of bouncing in and out of favour at Everton, he can now add the moment of abject stupidity that saw him sent off after 54 minutes at Anfield.

His only consolation will be that his dismissal did not cost West Ham the distinction of becoming the first side this season to deny Liverpool victory. Cottee had toiled well against a side with around pounds 10m-worth of centre-backs to call on, until a clash with Rob Jones left him indignant at not being awarded a free-kick.

There was no doubt about the intent or the effect of the horrible late challenge with which he responded, and he cannot have been as surprised as he was distraught to see the red card. That his side survived his absence only deepened Liverpool's disappointment at failing to maintain their impressive start to the season.

Despite a bright opening and a couple of spectacular long-range strikes towards the end, they had not really done enough to deserve better, and throwing a few extra central defenders into the mix would not have helped appreciably.

Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, chose to start with only one of his expensive new recruits, John Scales partnering Neil Ruddock, and the triangle of steel, at which Evans has hinted and which would have brought the Republic of Ireland's Phil Babb into the line- up, was kept for future use.

Babb, who only trained with his new team-mates for the first time on Friday, had to be content with an enthusiastic welcome from a packed Anfield and a place on the substitutes' bench. From there, he watched a frustrating afternoon for a side which had started the season in such prime form.

Steve McManaman had two good early chances, one curled past a post and the other forced a good save from Ludek Miklosko, after a deflection from a cross by Jones.

As their urgency increased, the strangely subdued Robbie Fowler hit the angle, Stig Inge Bjornebye had a fierce shot tipped over, and John Barnes saw an even better one crash back off the inside of a post. However, as Evans admitted: 'We were sluggish and our passing was poor.'

West Ham, who have not won at Anfield for 31 seasons, made life difficult for Liverpool, with their five men strung across midfield breaking up their passing patterns and finding time to contribute some clever touches of their own.

Their best chances fell to Martin Allen - a header from Tim Breacker's cross in the first half and a shot past the far post when the former Liverpool player, Mike Marsh, teed up an inviting opportunity for him in the second.

Even after Cottee's departure, for what Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, admitted was a reckless challenge, the Hammers gave the lie to their barren start to the season by calling David James into action to save efforts from Matthew Rush and John Moncur.

'We weren't on top of our game and they worked hard and probably deserved a point,' said Evans, who was nevertheless pleased with the initial contribution of Scales, who was signed from Wimbledon.

Redknapp, who had three men booked and who fines players for being sent off for dissent, will not be punishing Cottee further. 'It was completely out of character, a spur of the moment thing and he is extremely sorry,' he said. 'If we had lost, he would have been sorrier still.'

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