Chesterfield. . .4
HOWEVER you define a crisis, there is no escaping the fact that Liverpool are fortunate to be heading for Saltergate and the second leg of this enthralling Coca-Cola Cup encounter within touching distance of Chesterfield, let alone on level terms. Mark Wright and goalkeeper David James will be particularly relieved their elimination is not already assured.
Seven matches unbeaten in the Third (nee Fourth) Division would normally have counted for little at Anfield, but these days they amount to intimidating credentials and Liverpool's assortment of fringe players were instantly ill-at-ease.
A potentially awkward tie was given the stamp of a genuine contest after just seven minutes when Chesterfield went ahead. Their centre-forward, Andy Morris, who had the poise to complement his muscular aggression, beat Wright to head on a cross from Lee Rogers, and Steve Norris beat a hesitant James at the near post to score his seventh goal in eight matches.
The fantasy came under pressure as Liverpool pushed forward in search of self-respect. David Burrows had a shot deflected behind and twice Ronny Rosenthal threatened to produce an equaliser but the danger passed and, after 30 minutes, Chesterfield, courtesy of two of Liverpool's recognised first- choice players, Wright and James, were two up. Wright played the ball back with rather more weight than his goalkeeper demanded. James wanted time to control and clear, but Dave Lancaster was unwilling to accommodate him. He stabbed at the hovering ball and James and Wright were left staring at each other in mutual disbelief.
Wright's next blunder was not long delayed, the Liverpool captain appearing to recover after being caught out of position in the 48th minute, only to lose control. Lancaster exacted the appropriate punishment and, astonishingly, Chesterfield led 3-0.
That advantage lasted just three minutes, however. Substitute Istvan Kozma whipped in the ball low from the right and the horizontal Rosenthal scored with a header.
Another seven minutes on and Liverpool had pulled back another. Mick Leonard saved splendidly from Mark Walters but, from the rebound, Don Hutchison placed the ball in to the corner. Then, in the 68th minute, back came Chesterfield to plunder a fourth. Wright was stranded, James transfixed, and Norris claimed his second.
The flow of goals still could not be staunched. After 72 minutes Walters halved the deficit and, five minutes from the end, Wright atoned for some of his earlier misdemeanours by heading the equaliser.
Liverpool: James; Marsh, Burrows, Tanner, Redknapp, Wright, Rosenthal, Charnock (Kozma, 45), Hutchison, Molby, Walters. Substitute not use: Harkness.
Chesterfield: Leonard; Lemon, Carr, Williams, Brien, Rogers, Cash, Norris (Turnbull, 75), Morris, Lancaster (Kennedy, 70), Hebberd.
Referee: P Wright (Northwich).