Football: Rush in a show of good health

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Liverpool. . . . . . .2

Rush 22, 90

Manchester City. . . .1

Griffiths 4

Attendance: 41,872

WITH yet another star swathed in plaster of Paris, Liverpool had to perform their regular impersonation of a side in rude health at Anfield yesterday. They eventually succeeded, too, though it was difficult to be sure if this was because of their conviction and spirit of adventure or Manchester City's burgeoning shortcomings.

Whatever the reason, the winning goal in the final minute was both well taken and well deserved. Steve McManaman crossed high and deep from the right, the old campaigner Ian Rush bounded in unheralded at the far post, squeezed it narrowly inside with his header, a delirious stadium erupted, and a mightily relieved manager dashed on to the pitch.

Say what you will about the Liverpool manager Graeme Souness - and many people do - it is difficult not to feel a shade sympathetic towards him with a casualty list which will not go away. Robbie Fowler is the latest player to join it, having sustained a hairline leg fracture in the Cup tie at Bristol City. If Souness is as lucky, say, with haircuts as he is with injuries he should never visit a barber again. Not that he dwelt on this afterwards.

'I thought we deserved it,' he said. 'We played excellently in the first half and if we didn't quite match that in the second, I was still pleased. I liked the way John Barnes played. He got a lot of the ball up front and held it up well for us.'

It was Fowler's absence which meant that Barnes was restored to a central attacking role alongside Rush. It worked, too. Barnes is no longer as sleek as he was and if it remains something of a relief for him to go through a whole game uninjured, he is as classy as ever on the ball.

He grew mildly frustrated as Liverpool were involved in an increasingly fraught search for their winner, and perhaps took too much on. But he was always looking for the quick pass, the return, the making of space. In a way, Barnes epitomises Liverpool: not quite what they were.

But they took the game to a shambolic City after falling behind in the third minute - and even then it was against the run of play. A long goal-kick by Tony Coton found the top of Gary Flitcroft's head, and somehow Neil Ruddock contrived to miss it. Nobody else in the Liverpool defence was around and a surprised Carl Griffiths produced the necessary lob over the advancing Bruce Grobbelaar.

This did not spur City, and actually performed quite the reverse. Liverpool might have scored three times before Rush bagged a 27th-minute equaliser. Nigel Clough's pass through the centre to Jamie Redknapp led to a shot, Coton parried and Rush got the rebound. For the next 60 minutes, Liverpool sought the winner, not as directly in the second half as in the first, but always with a will.

Redknapp and Clough took control in midfield and seemed to be developing a pleasant understanding - which does not always exist, incidently, in the side's back four. There were chances for both strikers but if the City defence were not up to it, Coton was, with saves diving both to right and left. Souness said he was the best around.

He could afford to be generous after such a thrilling finale, but City, still the object of attention by Francis Lee, may need Francis of Assisi ('Where there is despair may we bring hope') to save them. Their manager, Brian Horton, admitted as much. 'We got what we deserved - nothing. If we play like that we'll be relegated,' he said, and nobody disagreed.