Football: Liverpool's accent on youth pays off
Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 0
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Monday 20 January 1997
That says something for the effectiveness of their transfer activity over the years, and something, too, for the more recent revival of a youth policy under, topically enough, Kenny Dalglish.
Anfield has been feeling the benefit of that change of emphasis through the likes of Robbie Fowler, but last year's crop was the first to snatch the blue riband of the teenaged game.
Already, Michael Owen, a goalscorer who makes Fowler's own record at the same age look modest, has a first-team squad number. Two others from the Youth Cup side, David Thompson and Jamie Cassidy, have been on the bench; but the first to graduate to a starting place - and to do so in some style - is Jamie Carragher.
A week from his 19th birthday and the possessor of a Scouse accent so thick it makes Messrs McManaman and McAteer sound like Jeeves and Wooster, Carragher can play at the back as well as in midfield.
"We could have thrown him into the back three, but we put him in midfield where he's a little bit more confident," the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, said. "He's not fazed by anything. He was booked in the first minute and didn't let it affect him."
After that early clash with Andy Townsend, Carragher was indeed impressive, showing plenty of neat, constructive touches. But his biggest contribution was the glancing header in the 50th minute that shook Liverpool out of their recent flat phase at Anfield. As if a great weight had been lifted off their shoulders, they added two more in the next 13 minutes.
Both managers were a little carried away by that sudden goal glut, Brian Little being unduly gloomy about Villa's performance and prospects and Evans seeing his side's toothless first-half display in a much more flattering light.
But the fact remains that Liverpool are still not strutting around like Premiership leaders, let alone potential champions. There were capable performances from their wing-backs, especially Stig Inge Bjornebye, and from Bjorn Tore Kvarme, a fellow Norwegian making his debut and coping well with Dwight Yorke.
But there is still a lack of the "go forward" factor in midfield and, until Carragher showed them the way, Fowler and Stan Collymore were anonymous.
Without Carragher's breakthrough, it could have been another frustrating Anfield afternoon. There will be few more significant and influential Premiership debuts this season.
Goals: Carragher (50) 1-0; Collymore (58) 2-0; Fowler (63) 3-0.
Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Kvarme, Wright, Matteo; McAteer, Carragher, Redknapp, McManaman, Bjornebye; Fowler, Collymore (Kennedy, 74). Substitutes not used: Harkness, L Jones, Thompson, Warner (gk).
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Tiler; Scimeca, Curcic, Townsend, Johnson, Wright; Yorke, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Joachim, Hendrie, Farrelly, Murray, Oakes (gk).
Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley). Bookings: Liverpool Carragher; Aston Villa Southgate.
Man of the match: Bjornebye. Attendance: 40,489.
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