Football: Liverpool suffer the same old failings

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The Independent Online

Liverpool 1 Leicester City 2

A new team, old shortcomings. Liverpool's championship campaign was fatally wounded at home last season and nothing last night suggested that this time it will be different. To surrender so meekly to Leicester was hardly a start to encourage hopes they will supplant Manchester United.

Instead of a new team with a core of steel it was Leicester who provided the centre that counted, the one that led to Matt Elliott's goal after 74 seconds and defined the match. From then on Liverpool chased with fading conviction, Paul Ince's goal coming after Graham Fenton had put limited but obdurate Leicester beyond reach.

Liverpool could hardly say they were not warned. They let slip 21 points at Anfield last term and in the programme their manager, Roy Evans, complained about the home-sour-home syndrome. "We can't make that mistake again," he wrote although he might as well have saved his arm.

Frailty under crosses, over-elaboration in the build-up, all the familiar failings were paraded by Liverpool last night. Ince, Karlheinz Riedle and Danny Murphy made their debuts to a greater or lesser degree of anonymity but for all the change they made Evans could have fielded the team that laboured and lost against Coventry and Sheffield Wednesday at Anfield last term.

"It was more than frustrating," Evans said. "That performance was not good enough for Liverpool Football Club, let's be honest about it. We have got to do better than that. The goal was a killer but it was so unprofessional the way we defended. We got caught stone cold. Experienced players should stop that and we didn't. It put us on the back foot."

One reason for their fragility last season was Liverpool's lack of concentration when it came to crosses and within a minute they were again ruing their inattention. Leicester took a quick free-kick on the left, but there appeared to be enough red shirts to deal with Emile Heskey's looping pass to the far post. The defence stood still, Elliott moved, and his long right leg hooked the ball into the roof of the net.

The sense of shock was profound and it was one that Liverpool found difficult to shake off, producing a half of such insipid football you wondered if their expensive summer signings were on the field. Only 17-year-old Michael Owen looked sharp in this period, having a shot deflected wide and shaving a post with a volley from the edge of the area. Liverpool were booed as they left the field at half-time.

Something clearly had to be done and Evans reverted to a back four, replacing Stig Bjornebye with Danny Murphy to provide a gear in midfield other than pedestrian. The change injected pace at the expense of width but at least there was some urgency.

Unfortunately it was not enough and after Murphy had been denied by Spencer Prior's swift intervention after 59 minutes, the visitors began to look dangerous again. "When you have a player like Heskey up front, anything is possible," Leicester's manger, Martin O'Neill said afterwards, his big centre-forward having proved the point eloquently.

With eight minutes remaining, Steve Guppy released Heskey on the left and although David James did well to get down to a ball travelling with power and accuracy towards the far post, the rebound was unkind for the goalkeeper, falling invitingly for Fenton.

Ince reduced the arrears with a 25-yard shot but a draw would have flattered Liverpool. "We didn't deserve anything," Evans said. "Let's hope this will act like a kick up the backside."

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Wright, Babb (Matteo, 72), Harkness; Jones, Thomas (Carragher, 77), Ince, McManaman, Bjornebye (Murphy, h-t); Owen, Riedle. Substitutes not used: Thompson, Warner (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Prior, Elliott, Walsh; Izzet (Savage, h-t), Kamark, Lennon, Campbell, Guppy; Marshall (Fenton, 72), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Claridge, Parker, Andrews (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).