Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
INSPIRED by that almost forgotten cut and thrust of Ian Rush, Liverpool exposed Queen's Park Rangers' frail resources and went some way towards confirming their revival at Loftus Road last night.
Although the game eventually became dominated by Liverpool and caused Rangers to rue the absence of injured defenders, not to mention the selling of international attackers, the highlight was still an extraordinary goal scored from 35 yards by Ray Wilkins. Nevertheless, it was Rush who led Liverpool's recovery, and earned high praise from his manager Graeme Souness. 'That's the best performance I've ever seen from any centre forward in my time in football. He was phenomenal. He scored the first one, laid on the other two and his general play was just outstanding. He was the outstanding performer in a team that played very well as a whole,' Souness said.
Rush was promisingly encouraged by the neatness and inventiveness of Nigel Clough who, although upstaged by his partner, began to settle into this so much more spirited Liverpool.
The crush outside the ground delayed the kick-off and indicated a continuing enthusiasm for Rangers but the fans were not best pleased to learn that Andy Sinton was finally going though perhaps that was compensated by the news that the more popular and important Les Ferdinand was staying.
Even in Rangers' 4-1 defeat by Aston Villa last Saturday Ferdinand was outstanding, and after only three minutes last night he was reminding Liverpool of the common sense in restoring Bruce Grobbelaar as senior goalkeeper. His substantial header down towards the goalline from Wilkins' delicate free-kick forced Grobbelaar into a diving, clutching save that prepared Liverpool for a testing first 10 minutes.
The ability of Andrew Impey to expose Liverpool's weaknesses on the left side of defence ought to have given Ferdinand more than the one outstanding first-half shot that Grobbelaar competently pushed round. Rangers paid for their inability to turn promising possession into goals when, after 19 minutes, Rob Jones dissected their defence. Rush sprinted into the penalty area and, in the style for which he is best remembered, crashed the ball past Tony Roberts.
With Trevor Sinclair, the newcomer from Blackpool, surprisingly confident and Wilkins again showing that there is life and wit in the mid- 30s, Rangers managed to give a convincing impression of being hard done by. Wilkins put the matter to rights with the most spectacular goal of his career. The ball had strayed loose well outside the penalty area when he moved in and his tremendous drive sped so fast past Grobbelaar that the keeper made no move.
Had Rangers' defence been as diligent as their midfield, they might have avoided seeing Rush then recall his better days. Five minutes from half-time Clough, scorer of both Liverpool's goals against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, crossed for Rush to turn the ball into the penalty area. Steve Nicol comfortably side- footed it in. Rush thrived on the loose marking and after 43 minutes cleverly wriggled away from tackles near the corner flag, allowing Nicol to cross low and Clough to turn a neat flick in off the far post.
Rush continued to be well served by a promising Liverpool while Ferdinand suffered from a dwindling supply and was continually frustrated by Mark Wright. In the meantime Steve McManaman tortured the easily out- positioned Karl Ready, and overall Rangers never looked like recovering from those first-half goals.
Liverpool closed ranks, not quite in the confident manner of their past, but sufficiently well to justify predictions of a season among the top half- dozen. Rangers, for their part, urgently need to have defenders restored to fitness and to avoid any further depletions in an already stretched squad.
Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Roberts; Ready, Yates, Peacock, Wilson; Impey, Wilkins, Barker, Sinclair (White, 73); Ferdinand, Penrice. Substitutes not used: Brevett, Stejskal (gk).
Liverpool (4-4-2): Grobbelaar; Jones, Wright, Ruddock, Bjornebye; Nicol, Molby, Whelan, McManaman; Rush, Clough (Redknapp, 74). Substitutes not used: Burrows, Hooper (gk).
Referee: P A Durkin (Portland).
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