Football: Liverpool suffering the half-time effect: Evans' interval worry

Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 QUITE what Roy Evans says to the Liverpool players at half-time is concealed by a wall of dressing- room secrecy but the effect is not exactly on a par with Churchillian urgings to fight them on the beaches.

A Merseyside cynic - a not unknown species - might wonder if the promptings go along the lines of 'well lads, you've shown what can do, so stop now' because a trend is developing in Liverpool matches. For 45 minutes they whip the cream of the Premiership and then meekly hand back the initiative with the change of ends.

It happened against Manchester United and Newcastle and recurred again on Saturday: a first- rate first half followed by a second- best second. The opposition is either taking 45 minutes to fathom how to play Liverpool's 5-3-2 formation or someone is slipping a sleeping draft into the interval tea.

Evans does not need to fantasise about his team playing the best off the park because his charges have done it but the net result for his nearly men is one point from the three visits to their most dangerous rivals and the growing suspicion that, for all the improvements he has made, Liverpool are not quite good enough.

Certainly the manager seemed to be growing short of patience on Saturday. 'I don't know how to react,' he said. 'I'm pleased with the performance but disappointed with the result. I can't lay into the team because of their effort but the mistakes they made . . .' His voice tailed off in frustration.

This contest, between the pre- match third and fourth in the Premiership, had two dominant figures whose ascendancy was neatly divided by the interval. Before it Steve McManaman bewitched Blackburn, after it Chris Sutton, who improves with every inspection, assumed control.

As a consequence Liverpool arrived at the half-way point a goal ahead thanks to Robbie Fowler's deflected 30th-minute shot but left Ewood Park pointless even though John Barnes scored one of the best goals of his career with an overhead kick from Stig Inge Bjornebye's cross.

The difference, ultimately, was a matter of size. Fowler and Ian Rush are as deadly a striking combination as you are likely to find in England but they lack Sutton and Alan Shearer's physiques, which allow them to manhandle opponents. The Liverpool centre-backs are hardly shrinking violets when it comes to playing the heavy but on Saturday they seemed to bounce off the Blackburn duo. Strength when it is allied to this kind of skill is truly formidable.

Shearer made the first two goals with fierce crosses from the right of the area that were touched home by Mark Atkins and Sutton but Blackburn's third exemplified the latter half of the match. Sutton had a lucky rebound off Neil Ruddock's challenge but he accepted his fortune with a certainty that is rare. There was not the slightest suggestion he expected to miss despite the distance or the angle.

Afterwards Sutton's manager, Kenny Dalglish, got about as excited as he can about a player. 'Quite apart from his goals, he had a good match in terms of his distribution,' he said. 'He worked very hard for the other players.'

Asked whether he had fully fulfilled expectations since his pounds 5m transfer from Norwich in the summer, Dalglish replied: 'I've made worse signings.' Which in any other manager's language would mean yes.

Goals: Fowler (29) 0-1; Atkins (52) 1-1; Sutton (57) 2-1; Barnes (59) 2-2; Sutton (72) 3-2.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Gale, Hendry, Le Saux; Ripley, Atkins, Warhurst, Wilcox; Shearer, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Slater, Pearce, Mimms (gk).

Liverpool (5-3-2): James; Jones, Scales, Ruddock, Babb, Bjornebye (Redknapp, 78); McManaman, Molby, Barnes; Rush, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Clough, Stensgaard (gk).

Referee: B Hill (Market Harborough).