Football: Leeds dismantled by Barnes

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 4 Leeds United 0

Wild weather or tame opposition, it made no difference to Liverpool, who overcame both majestically in a game they had comfortably won by half- time.

An opening goal from Robbie Fowler and two in two minutes from his partner, Stan Collymore, did the decisive damage. But the dominant figure of a dominant display that maintains the pressure on Manchester United at the top of the Premiership was John Barnes.

He has not always seemed to be a player who relishes the excesses of an English winter, but he was in his element last night to such an extent that he looked as though he would have gone out into the raging Irish Sea on the New Brighton lifeboat if necessary.

His control of proceedings in midfield was infectious, with his team- mates picking up the same brand of confidence as they dismantled Leeds during a first 45 minutes that must be close to their best of the season.

It gives some idea of the balance of play that Nigel Martyn was three times called upon to demonstrate what to Leeds supporters is a self-evident truth - that he should have been in Glenn Hoddle's England squad last week - before Liverpool eventually beat him.

Martyn saved brilliantly from Collymore and twice from Fowler before his one-man resistance finally cracked. There was, in truth, little he could do about it when Barnes and Stig Inge Bjornebye took apart Leeds' defence down the left side of their penalty area, and Collymore's low cross left Fowler to touch the ball into the net.

The first of Collymore's double strike came 10 minutes before half time, when Barnes robbed the hesitant Lee Bowyer and slid the ball into his path to leave Martyn helpless. Before Leeds had fully absorbed the significance of that, Steve McManaman skipped around Lucas Radebe to give Collymore a tap in at the far post. Small wonder that Leeds looked by half-time as though they wished their game had been one of those to fall victim to the weather.

Liverpool cruised through much of the second half, knocking the ball around in a manner that challenged Leeds to try to think of something to do about it. When they stepped up the pace, Fowler put an audacious chip just over the bar and then, four minutes from full-time, Jamie Redknapp fired home an explosive free-kick from 20 yards out to round off a convincing performance.

Leeds had threatened briefly, through two sudden flashes from Rod Wallace, who hit the bar when he should have equalised in the first half, and drove a shot past the post in the second. It was he who gave way to allow Ian Rush a 17-minute run-out on the ground he graced for so long. George Graham had kept him on the bench for the first 73 and Rush made little impact, although he was far from alone in that.

His introduction was not enough for the Leeds fans, who chanted for Tony Yeboah to also come off the bench. Graham defended his decision to leave Yeboah where he was. "He's the one taking his time to get match fit," the Leeds manager said. "I'm not afraid to make unpopular decisions."

Unpopularity will not be a problem for Roy Evans if his side continues to produce classic Liverpool football of this quality, even in such difficult conditions. "It was very pleasing, especially against a team we knew would make it difficult for us," he said.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Kvarme, Wright, Matteo; McAteer, McManaman, Redknapp, Barnes, Bjornebye; Fowler (Kennedy, 78), Collymore (Berger, 78). Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Ruddock, Thomas.

Leeds United (3-1-4-2): Martyn; Molenaar, Halle, Palmer; Radebe; Kelly, Bowyer, Jackson (Harte, 73), Dorigo; Wallace (Rush, 73), Deane. Substitutes not used: Beeney (gk), Wetherall, Yeboah.

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

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