Football: Liverpool and Rush in search of a climax

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The Independent Online
Leeds United 0 Liverpool 2

The reflexes are not the same these days and the quality of colleagues has definitely diminished. Like an old fighter reaching for that final touch of glory, Ian Rush searches for a fitting climax to an illustrious career. The sad thing is he is unlikely to find it with Leeds.

It was hard not to feel sorry for Rush on Saturday. Not because Leeds lost - that is too regular an occurrence to be worthy of morbid reflection - but because Liverpool failed to win by a mile. Maybe their erstwhile striker would have missed the chances too, but you doubted it. Had Rush been wearing a red shirt instead of white he could have left Elland Road with a hat-trick.

Instead his only souvenir for meeting a club for whom he scored 346 times was a booking for brawling and a hatful of if onlys. Like, how many goals would he be getting if Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp swapped sides. Or would he have left Anfield last summer if Robbie Fowler had not existed.

Roy Evans, the visiting manager, did his best to lift the spirits of his former player who has yet to get a goal for Leeds when he could barely miss for Liverpool. "When he scores, he'll score regularly. That's for sure," he said. Given that Leeds had had a day when chances had the rarity of precious stones, no one else was as confident.

Evans was probably talking wistfully anyway because he would love the killer instinct that a 20-year-old Rush would bring to his team. If they carried ruthlessness in their casket of multi-talents, Liverpool would be the best side in the country. Instead they disembody sides with their skills and then forget to place the seal on their superiority by putting the ball in the net. It has cost them before and could have done again on Saturday.

For 30 minutes they were breathtaking. McManaman flitted into spaces, daring defenders to test the accuracy of their tackles against the swiftly moving target of his feet while Redknapp directed matters with the smoothness and authority of a maestro conductor. Fowler should have scored twice, McManaman once and it was hard to reconcile the fact that this period of silky dominance had yielded only one goal, Neil Ruddock volleying in after Carlton Palmer had failed to clear properly Stig Inge Bjornebye's corner.

Evans said afterwards: "The day you think you have the perfect team is the time you should retire." And it is touching the way his players are determined to show their frailties just to ensure their boss does not think of going home with a company clock.

Having done enough to win the match they also did their best to lose it and in the second half they sat back, allowing Leeds to bombard their area with long balls. The fact the home team did not contrive a proper chance was down to their own failures, Liverpool did their best to help them.

It came as a jolt then that when a second goal did come, in injury time, it was Liverpool who got it. Nigel Martyn tried to do something that even Eric Cantona might have blanched at, trapping the ball after it descended from the skies and when, surprise surprise, the Leeds goalkeeper made a hash of it McManaman swooped and walked it into the net.

For Rush the day was summed up by his booking. Believing Mark Wright had handled, the striker went ballistic and it required a peace-keeping operation from Jason McAteer that Nato would have been proud of to stop him taking on the Liverpool back four in a bout of fisticuffs. At that moment the days when ice seemed to run through his veins seemed a long time ago.They probably were a distant memory to him, too.

Goals: Ruddock (12) 0-1; McManaman (90) 0-2.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Palmer, Beesley, Radebe; Rush, Ford, Bowyer, Sharpe; Deane, Wallace (Jackson, 13). Substitutes not used: Wetherall, Harte, Couzens, Beeney (gk).

Liverpool (3-5-1-1): James; Wright, Ruddock, Matteo; McAteer, Thomas, Redknapp, Barnes, Bjornebye; McManaman; Fowler. Substitutes not used: Babb, Collymore, Berger, Kennedy, Warner (gk).

Bookings: Leeds: Radebe, Rush; Liverpool: Wright.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough). Attendance: 39,981.

Man of the match: McManaman.