Football: Molby rules Palace

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. .1

Armstrong 49

Liverpool. . . . 6

Molby pen 12, McManaman 14, 70,

Fowler 45, Rush 60, 74

Attendance: 18,084

IT SEEMS the doom-and- gloom mongers were exaggerating. Liverpool emerged from a pre-season that generated talk of terminal decline in Mark Twain style to open a new chapter with flashes of the form that made them champions before.

One of the main reasons for their dominance was Jan Molby, who filled midfield physically and metaphorically, and struck the first blow as Crystal Palace's hopes of a good start back in the Premiership crumbled. Molby knocked in a 12th-minute penalty after Rob Jones was tripped by Simon Rodger. Two minutes later, Liverpool were under pressure until Molby side-footed a clearance to Steve McManaman. He raced up the left wing before drifting inside and curling a right-foot shot inside the far post.

Although never allowed to relax by an eager Palace attack, Liverpool, with such a start, had the confidence to play their passing game, with Molby and Jamie Redknapp at the hub. It was imperious stuff, with Neil Ruddock and Steve Nicol solid at the centre of defence and Stig Bjornebye comfortable at left-back.

The solidity of Molby and Redknapp allowed John Barnes and McManaman to float from wing to wing to make the most of perceptive passes and Palace were always on the back foot when they lost possession.

Even the experienced Ray Wilkins - making his Palace debut - could do little to stem the flow, though the Londoners did threaten to rattle Liverpool's composure with long passes enabling Chris Armstrong to employ his pace up front. It took a timely tackle from Jones, who later made a goal-line clearance, to deny Armstrong a shooting chance midway through the half, but then another disaster struck as their new striker, Andy Preece, was carried off with a trapped nerve in his back.

Gareth Southgate, the Palace captain, collected the day's first booking for a 33rd-minute foul and Wilkins followed him, for dissent. Then Armstrong made it three yellow cards for tripping Bjornebye.

Palace were holding the fort as half-time approached but in time added before the break Darren Pitcher, Palace's third new boy, made a mess of collecting a pass, leaving Robbie Fowler to race clear and plant the ball in the bottom corner of the net with the outside of his left foot.

Palace needed to close down midfield, did so after the interval and were soon rewarded when Dean Gordon sped down the left and placed a perfect cross on Armstrong's forehead.

That goal put Palace back in it, but their defence, it seemed, had already shown the white flag and on the hour no one in their back four moved as Ian Rush rose to glance Bjornebye's left-wing cross into the net to make it 4-1.

When Jones put Redknapp away on the right nine minutes later, the cover was so limp that the midfielder was given a second chance to cross and pick out McManaman, who came in late to add his second.

Although Palace kept trying, with the substitute, Darren Dyer, and John Salako trying their luck, it was still easy for Liverpool. When Redknapp put an inswinging 73rd-minute corner on Barnes's head, only Rush moved for the back-header and easily nodded in his second.

So Liverpool are on the slide?