Football: McManaman masks Liverpool's lethargy

Liverpool 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2

THIS MAY have been a meaningless mid-table match, but on Wednesday these two sides have the destiny of the championship in their hands.

So what will Manchester United and Arsenal spies have learned? Firstly, that Spurs are likely to post the bigger threat to the championship contenders, and not only because they follow this week's north London derby with matches against Chelsea and United.

Even without the injured Les Ferdinand and with David Ginola "resting" on the bench after the exertions of receiving the players' Player of the Year award, they were too lively for an under-strength Liverpool who once again seemed determined to contribute to their own undoing.

A defence, which in a couple of days must contend with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, found it difficult enough to cope with the lone threat of Chris Armstrong, though the impressive form of Steffen Iversen as both creator and goalscorer will have figured strongly in the notes of observers.

It was he who delivered the cross which prompted Jamie Carragher to put through his own goal after 13 minutes and whose powerful header from Darren Anderton's free-kick seemed to have put the match beyond Liverpool well before half-time.

Enter referee Stephen Lodge, who turned the game on its head with two debatable decisions either side of the break. The first was the dismissal of the Spurs full-back Mauricio Taricco for two bookable offences, both fairly innocuous tackles on Steve McManaman.

The second was the award of a penalty when goalkeeper Ian Walker was judged to have brought down Karlheinz Riedle.

Despite the extra man, Liverpool found it difficult to break down a well-organised Spurs rearguard which seemed capable of resisting a lack- lustre attack until two goals in as many minutes produced a flattering victory.

Paul Ince diverted Jamie Redknapp's cross beyond Walker and McManaman, the only Liverpool player to impress, rounded off a splendid afternoon with a superb 20-yard drive.

Doubtless their fierce rivalry with United will give an extra edge to Liverpool's play on Wednesday, but in the continuing absence of Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler, Alex Ferguson may well conclude that if they shackle McManaman their visit to Anfield may not be nearly as tricky as their final match of the season at home to Spurs.

Goals: Carragher (og, 13) 0-1; Iverson (35) 0-2; Redknapp (pen, 49) 1- 2; Ince (77) 2-2; McManaman (79) 3-2.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Friedel; Kvarme (Gerrard, h-t), Carragher, Staunton, Matteo; Thompson (Bjornebye, 88), Redknapp, Leonhardsen (Song, 75), Ince, McManaman; Riedle. Substitutes not used: James (gk), Dundee.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-5-1): Walker; Carr, Campbell, Nielsen, Taricco; Dominguez (Fox, 83), Clements (King, h-t), Iversen, Anderton, Freund (Sherwood, 66); Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Baardsen, Ginola.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Liverpool: Riedle. Tottenham: Taricco, Walker, Freund. Sending- off: Taricco.

Man of the match: McManaman.

Attendance: 44,007.