Football: McManaman sets the standard

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 4

Sheffield Wednesday 1

THE individual fortunes of Steve McManaman have mirrored those of his club of late - plenty of praiseworthy approach work, but nothing much to show for it.

While Liverpool have been impressing observers as a club on the mend against the current brand leaders at Old Trafford and St James' Park, McManaman has been typically frustrating.

Old Anfield worthies like Alan Hansen and Phil Thompson have touted him as an England candidate, but only if he becomes more obviously productive and improves on his habit of scoring his goals in small clusters about a year apart.

Against Wednesday, McManaman showed the force that he can be. A glorious first goal, a second which owed more to a wicked deflection from Des Walker's boot, and a straightforward third made up the 22-year-old local product's total.

If there was any doubt about the validity of the hat-trick, McManaman by-passed bureaucracy as effectively as he had the Wednesday defence by shoving the match ball up his jersey at full-time like an inexpert shoplifter.

He and his team deserved the spoils, but even Roy Evans conceded that 4-1 was a lopsided representation of the overall flavour of the game. True, Kevin Pressman kept Wednesday in the match at times with some stunning saves, two double efforts of particular merit among them. But Wednesday played a full part in a consistently fluent and enterprising match and were, for a long time, the more creative and effective in midfield.

'If you hadn't been at the game, you might think that 4-1 looks like a hammering,' Trevor Francis said. 'But I was at the game and I thought we played well.'

The answer to that apparent conundrum lay in the notes Francis had been scribbling, with increasing exasperation, during the match. 'We had five good chances in the second half. In the first half, we had 11 shots but only two on target,' he said.

Francis brought on David Hirst when Wednesday were 2-1 down, but the days when that would have sent a tremor of apprehension through the opposition are now a distant memory.

It is sad to see a striker, once so incisive, toiling grimly, and obviously lacking confidence and condition. To make matters worse, Mark Bright appeared to come out in sympathy with him. That meant that Wednesday were unable to exploit the current Liverpool defensive system of three centre-backs which, despite their eventual resounding victory, looked less convincing than it has in other matches.

Goals: Nolan (33) 0-1; Rush (51) 1-1; McManaman (54) 2-1; (66) 3-1; (86) 4-1.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Nicol, Ruddick, Babb; Jones, Molby, Barnes, Bjornebye; Rush, Fowler (Redknapp, 76). Substitutes not used: Clough, Stensgaard (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Petrescu, Atherton, Walker, Nolan; Bart-Williams, Sheridan, Hyde, Sinton; Bright, Watson (Hirst, 58). Substitutes not used: Pearce, Key (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).