Football: Liverpool on their way to vintage form: Grobbelaar's sad reunion

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The Independent Online
Southampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

WHO SAID they never come back? The old champions, Liverpool, are rolling back the years and that includes the 30-year-old John Barnes, who scored a vintage goal at The Dell last night to celebrate his recall to the England squad and secure for his team a third successive win achieved with a familiar meanness.

It leaves them with a 100 per cent record in the Premiership, shared only by Newcastle United and even if Roy Evans, their manager, did not think they were 'firing on all cylinders', it is going to take a very good side to beat them. What makes this season's transformation all the more remarkable is that they lost six of their last nine games last season. From has-beens to wannabes again.

For Bruce Grobbelaar the change of fortunes must be galling, even if he did win 13 trophies in his 13 years at Anfield. His inside knowledge was not wasted. But for the 36-year-old's elasticity, the margin would have been even greater, spreading himself to block what looked certain goals for Jamie Redknapp and Ian Rush in the first half.

He had little chance, however, of frustrating the young Robbie Fowler, too. Instead, the frustration in the 20th minute was exclusively Southampton's as the crowd appealed in vain for handball by Barnes. It fell on deaf ears just as Alan Ball's scathing criticism of his team's defending in last Saturday's 5-1 drubbing by Newcastle - the 'new Liverpool' - appeared to have done. The real thing, Liverpool, proved just as penetrating in that moment as Steve McManaman's exquisitely weighted through pass was matched only by Fowler's perfectly timed run, rounded off with the composure one has already come to expect from this precocious goalscorer, notching his fifth of the season.

The closest Southampton came to drawing level was from a brave, diving header by Ken Monkou, though all he got for his trouble was a blow on the head and an early bath.

Ultimately, it was left to the new slimline Barnes to put the game beyond Saints' reach after 77 minutes. Jinking his way across the edge of the penalty area, he took advantage of a deflection to plant a shot wide of the groping Grobbelaar.

In truth, Liverpool had already seemed to have the game won, killing it in the second half just like the Liverpool of old. Lest Liverpudlians of the red persuasion get too carried away, it is worth remembering that their team also won their first three games last season. And look how disappointingly that season ended.

Southampton (4-4-2): Grobbelaar; Kenna, Monkou (Hall, 41), Benali, Charlton; Allen, Magilton, Maddison, Heaney; Le Tissier, Banger. Substitutes not used: Widdrington, Beasant (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Jones, Nicol, Ruddock, Bjornebye, McManaman, Molby, Redknapp, Barnes; Rush, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Clough, Harkness, Steensgaard (gk).

Referee: M Bodenham (Cornwall).

The Republic of Ireland defender, Phil Babb, is set to complete a pounds 3.75m move to Liverpool later this week after making a written transfer request yesterday.

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