Football: McManaman reaps reward

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The Independent Online
Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Rush 51, McManaman 54, 66, 86

Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Nolan 33

Attendance: 31,493

A SPECTACULAR second half effort, spearheaded by Steve McManaman, saw to it that Liverpool's good work did not continue to go unrewarded. After displays against the Uniteds of Manchester and Newcastle that had brought them more praise than points, Liverpool were on their way to another disappointment, despite dominating much of the match and making any number of chances until Ian Rush's equaliser and McManaman's subsequent eruption.

Although he left the field with the ball securely tucked up his shirt, McManaman will have to wait to see whether the relevant committee credits him with the second of his three goals, or debits it to Des Walker.

In either event, McManaman made a heavyweight contribution. His first goal was worthy of winning the match on its own. Jan Molby's visionary long ball found him on his unfavoured left flank. He seemed almost to have carried the ball too far across the face of the area before unleashing a right-footed shot unerringly into the top corner.

Kevin Pressman, whose fumble from Stig Inge Bjornebye's shot had presented Rush with the equaliser, could do nothing about that. He was just as helpless later when a shot from McManaman looped up maliciously from Walker's attempted block.

With five minutes left, McManaman, whose previous two goals on the opening day of the season broke his year long drought in the Premiership, completed what he clearly regarded as a bona fide hat-trick, whatever anyone else might think. Phil Babb was the creator, making his way into the penalty area and picking out McManaman to give him a simple side-foot into the net.

If Pressman's mistake had started the rot, he could fairly point out that his saves had kept Wednesday in the game during the first 50 minutes. One from John Barnes and two double saves, the first from Rush and then from a combination of Bjornebye and McManaman, were of the highest quality.

Wednesday were fashioning their own chances in a commendably open and fluent game, however, and they were the first to score. John Sheridan, on his 30th birthday, crossed the ball from the right, Mark Bright made contact with his head and Ian Nolan was in support beyond him to score with an angled shot. It was a landmark goal in more than one sense, Nolan's first since his summer transfer from Tranmere Rovers as well as the first conceded by Liverpool at Anfield this season.

It also amplified questions about Liverpool's decision to stick with their three-man central defence, even in the absence of the injured John Scales - Steve Nicol and Babb slotting in on either side of Neil Ruddock. It looked over-

cautious against a side with Wednesday's modest record this season. It left Barnes and Molby frequently looking short of support in the middle of the field. But once Pressman had undone Molby's good work and McManaman had started his, it was possible to see the advantages of the pattern their manager, Roy Evans, is working for.

Wednesday's manager, Trevor Francis, had cause to rue missed chances even after Liverpool had taken the lead, with Bright particularly guilty.

But Liverpool had been storing up some good fortune. 'It's a new system and it wasn't perfect today,' Evans said. 'It was recompense for games in which we've played exceptionally well and not got much.'