Football: Red fire ignited by Ince

Liverpool 2 Ince 55, Thomas 68 Sheff Wednesday 1 Collins 80 Att endance: 34,705
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The Independent Online
Liverpool's recent and relative fall from grace has left some spectres stalking Anfield, not least the home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday last season that first raised doubts about their ability to mount a real championship challenge.

A repeat of that result was never truly on the cards yesterday, but Wednesday finished a game that Liverpool had largely dominated far closer to taking something away than they should have been. The immediate cause was an 80th-minute goal scored by the Wednesday substitute, Wayne Collins, but the underlying reason was Liverpool's failure to convert all their possession into a match-winning lead.

After a shaky start Liverpool spent most of the match driving forward, led by a typically energetic performance from their captain, Paul Ince. It was Ince who had gone closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half, flashing a header just outside the post and having a shot diverted by Kevin Pressman's foot.

Liverpool had other moments, notably when long-range shots from Stig Inge Bjornebye and Michael Thomas were acrobatically turned away by the busy Pressman. But it was fitting that it should be Ince, booked for a first-half foul on Steve Nicol, who made the breakthrough after 54 minutes, even if the build-up to the goal was far from measured. Rob Jones hammered in a powerful shot which hit Michael Owen and was hooked on by Bjorn Kvarme before falling for Ince, who made no mistake firing home from eight yards out.

There was nearly a second Liverpool goal 10 minutes later when Pressman leapt to deny Owen's dipping shot, but the Wednesday keeper could do nothing about an effort from Thomas soon after. Taking the ball near the angle of the area, Thomas gave little notice of his venomous intent before lashing a left-footed shot past Pressman and into the far corner.

Wednesday, reshuffled yet again to cover for the absence of the suspended Benito Carbone and to accommodate the first appearance of their new signing, Jim Magilton, had never entirely disappeared from the game and they almost managed an instant reply, Mark Pembridge firing against the underside of the bar and the whistle going for a foul as David Hirst went for the rebound.

They had to wait another 10 minutes to register their response, Paolo Di Canio having the one noteworthy moment of an anonymous afternoon when he floated over a good cross from the right and Collins steered his header neatly past David James.

That set up a potentially embarrassing finale for Liverpool, but Wednesday never created the opening for an equaliser. Instead, with the visitors pressing forward, Liverpool had chances, through Ince and Patrik Berger, but neither could convert.

"We needed to hold them for 10 or 15 minutes longer," said David Pleat, the Wednesday manager. "Then the crowd would have really got on their backs."

As it was, Liverpool, with a midweek meeting with Celtic somewhere in the back of their minds, made their breakthrough before the frustration had a chance to get out of hand.

This was the sort of match in which Liverpool dropped points last season and Roy Evans admitted that, after defeat by Leicester in their last home game, his players were edgy. "But we gradually got better and I thought it was a competent performance," he said. "To go two goals up and let them back into the game is a thing we've been trying to get rid of. Fortunately it didn't cost us any points." And that, when the final calculations are done next spring, could make all the difference.

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