Football: Gunn goes off for Evans era: Richard Williams sees something of the old Liverpool in a turbulent game

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The Independent Online
AFTER the events of the week for both clubs, it was probably a relief just to get on the pitch and play a game of football. Chris Sutton's 16th and 17th league goals of the season were not enough to give Norwich victory over Liverpool at Carrow Road in a match that came close to boiling over with three minutes to go when the Norwich goalkeeper, Bryan Gunn, was sent off for handling the ball outside his area.

Liverpool's two equalisers, both scored in an increasingly frantic second half, came from the Norwich defender Ian Culverhouse with an own goal, and John Barnes.

For both clubs and their new managers, the match carried special significance. Dismayed first by the loss of Mike Walker to Everton last month and then by the sale of Ruel Fox to Newcastle United for pounds 2.25m last week, City's fans had been noisily questioning the club's degree of ambition.

The brunt of the criticism is being borne by Robert Chase, the chairman, who believes that an attempt to match the resources of clubs like Liverpool would be tantamount to setting Norwich on the road to perdition. Nevertheless, an above-average crowd of 19,746 turned out to see what John Deehan, Walker's successor, could do to improve a home record featuring four draws and four defeats in 11 matches this season.

Roy Evans, taking charge for the first time after 30 years at Liverpool, showed an immediate determination to distance himself from Graeme Souness's ill-starred regime by selecting Ronnie Whelan, the former club captain, for his first appearance in the first team in more than four months. The

32-year-old Irishman, who heard from Souness at the beginning of the season that he was surplus to requirements, took his place - alongside Nigel Clough in midfield, with John Barnes and Steve McManaman to Ian Rush's right and Mark Walters to his left - in an attacking formation stronger in reputation than on current ability to intimidate Premier League defences.

In the end, Liverpool got away with a point. Norwich, beautifully prompted by Goss, were all over them in the first half and should have turned round with more than a single goal to show for it. And even that had its origins in the questionable shoulder-barge with which Efan Ekoku removed Dominic Matteo from his path down the right. When Mark Wright completely fluffed his clearance of Ekoku's near-post cross, Sutton was there in a trice to make the most of it.

Ekoku was presented with several opportunities to increase the lead and his erratic finishing might most charitably be ascribed to the pressure of replacing the departed Fox. 'We should have turned round four or five goals up,' Deehan said afterwards.

Liverpool struck back seven minutes into the second half, when Gary Megson gave the ball away to Rush. Walters missed the Welshman's cross but Culverhouse, following up and probably unsighted, could not avoid bundling it past his own goalkeeper.

Ten minutes later, Sutton scored the goal of the game. When Goss slipped him a clever short pass, the 20-year-old calmly brought the ball under control before shooting carefully past Bruce Grobbelaar from about 20 yards. Deehan said that the club was determined to hang on to its young star for the forseeable future, but his gifts of skill, power, coolness and anticipation are such that he must be firmly in the thoughts of the richer clubs.

With a quarter of an hour to go, Norwich were looking good. Evans has been at Anfield in one capacity or another for 30 years, though, and he knows all about the club's traditions. And it was good to see a Liverpool side once more refusing to lie down and die, even if some of the ageing limbs on view looked as though they might be grateful for a lower tempo than that required to wrest a point from Norwich.

Clough, who operates best receiving the ball with his back to goal and opening the seams of a defence with first-time passes, seemed lost and wasted in a deep midfield role. But the veterans Whelan, Walters and Rush persevered and the reward came after 76 minutes when Julian Dicks chipped into the area, Rush challenged Gunn and the ball broke to Barnes, who took aim before slotting home from a dozen yards.

They could well have scored the winner when, with three minutes to go, McManaman lobbed the onrushing Gunn. Five yards out of his area, the goalkeeper reached up and tipped the ball away, earning himself a red card and Liverpool a Dicks free-kick which the substitute goalkeeper, Scott Howie, brilliantly deflected with the first touch of his first- team debut.

Evans said he had enjoyed his first match in charge, after a nervous first half hour. 'The spirit was there,' he remarked. 'We gave the ball away too much in the first half, but when we had it we used it astutely. I thought the players were magnificent. But if we're going to challenge for a place in Europe, we've got to start winning games like this.'

Frustrated by his side's inability to score the goals their perceptive one-touch approach work had deserved, the Norwich manager was nevertheless pleased by the progress of his sweeperless 4-4-2 formation, adopted in the second half of last weekend's FA Cup match against Manchester United and developed during the week.

'But we keep letting the opposition back in,' Deehan said. 'Last year we were winning these games 2-1. Now we're drawing them 2-2.' He could console himself with the thought that, for the first time in ages, yesterday's opposition looked something like the real Liverpool.

(Photograph omitted)

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