Football: Liverpool's hopes die

Wimbledon 2 Liverpool 1
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The Independent Online
They came, they saw, they faltered. Liverpool, effectively requiring a win to prevent Manchester United from becoming Premiership champions, let their faint opportunity slip last night.

Only in the last 15 minutes - after their 17-year-old debutant Michael Owen had reduced Wimbledon's 2-0 lead - did they show anything of the form which has kept them in contention this season.

Owen, a local lad who has been scoring freely for England Youth, came on as a 59th minute replacement for Patrik Berger, whose forward partnership with Stan Collymore never cohered.

Twice in the final minutes he might have added to his total, seeing one drive well held by Neil Sullivan and another miss the far post by inches.

Asked why it had taken so long to set about their task with urgency, Liverpool's manager Roy Evans was not able to produce a convincing answer.

"Sometimes you wish you only knew," he said. "We just got stunned into reality. Of course it's frustrating, but that's the peril of football.

"Obviously I offer congratulations to Alex Ferguson. It sticks in the throat because you want to challenge. But anybody who wins the title deserves it.''

Asked where he thought his own team had lost the title, Evans responded: "It wasn't away from home. We have lost 21 points at Anfield. If you lose that many at home you are not going to win the championship.''

In truth, his players performed without real hope last night. Perhaps some of their attitude was down to their unhappy recent history in this fixture - they had not had a League win at Wimbledon since they moved to Selhurst Park six years earlier.

For all that, some of the visitors came out with credit. David James, for instance. His positioning was open to question as Wimbledon took a 42nd minute lead, but he made several excellent saves before and after.

That opening goal, from a free kick by Neal Ardley, was headed home by Wimbledon's own teenage prodigy, 19-year-old Jason Euell, making only his second full League appearance of the season. Dean Holdsworth increased the lead in the 57th minute with a glancing header from another Ardley cross.

Liverpool required the intervention of a 17-year-old to produce football of any genuine threat. But, once Owen had done his bit, they could count themselves unfortunate not to recover at least one more goal, with McAteer twice coming close.

A Liverpool victory would have been a travesty, however. Now they need to win their final match at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday to retain second place.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, McAllister, Kimble; Ardley, Euell, Jones, Earle (Fear, 82); Holdsworth, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Reeves, Jupp, Clarke, Heald (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Kvarme, Wright, Ruddock, Bjornebye; McAteer, Redknapp, Thomas, McManaman; Berger (Owen, 59), Collymore. Substitutes not used: Barnes, Harkness, Carragher, Warner (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).