Football: Redknapp restores the belief
Liverpool 2 Redknapp 71, 84 Wimbledon 0 Attendance: 38,011
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Sunday 11 January 1998
If his first shot rather sneaked into the corner of the net via Neil Sullivan's fingertips and the inside of the post, there was no quibbling with the match- winning quality of his second in the 83rd minute. A square ball from Michael Owen gave him possession with nothing obvious on the agenda. But his soaring right-footed shot flew into Sullivan's top corner and Liverpool, who after the poverty of their performance against Coventry and their rehabilitation against Newcastle had looked rather average, were home and dry.
It was just as well that the England midfield player, back to something like his best in recent weeks, made his crucial contribution. For all their possession and pressure, Liverpool were never at their sharpest. Owen and Robbie Fowler lacked their usual cutting edge, while McManaman, the subject of more transfer speculation emanating from Barcelona, gave the ball away too often and the question of where a decisive goal was coming from was overdue an answer.
Roy Evans praised Liverpool's patience. "I was more delighted with that than with a lot of results we've had," he said of his side's fifth consecutive league win. "We always felt that we would get a break.
"Jamie Redknapp has done really well. He came back from his ankle injury a lot earlier than we thought and has progressed week-in, week-out and looks to be back near his best. We always feel he should score more goals, because of the ability he shows on the training field."
Liverpool dominated the game territorially from the start, Fowler twice having good opportunities denied by Sullivan, before Wimbledon's first real attack required a perfectly timed tackle from Phil Babb to dispossess Carl Cort.
Owen had a header saved and then set up Redknapp for a shot with a clever piece of play. Fowler even had the ball in the net early in the second half from a cross by the hard-working and constructive Jason McAteer, but he was clearly offside and the general impression was that Wimbledon, who beat Liverpool to end their title aspirations last season, were tightening their grip.
There were even a couple of alarming moments at the other end as the towering substitute, Carl Leaburn, making his Wimbledon debut, flicked the ball on for Marcus Gayle and when Steve Harkness's head deflected a goalbound effort from Robbie Earle.
However, just as self-doubt was creeping in, Redknapp gave everyone a demonstration of decisive finishing. In between his double, Liverpool, with the tension suddenly lifting, could have scored through Fowler and hit the post through McManaman. Redknapp's second put it beyond doubt and Liverpool ended a turbulent week with some semblance of equilibrium.
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