Football: Rush's flash amid the flaws

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Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Oldham . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

IAN RUSH'S firecracker goal was, as Joe Royle put it, 'a terrific strike; too good for this match'. On a perfect Spring day, with Liverpool needing respectability after humiliation at Blackburn, and with the Latics desperate for points, this was a mostly passionless display, flawed with errors. A 36,000 crowd were almost as subdued as the football but, as Alan Hansen put it on Match of the Day, 'At this stage of the season the football doesn't matter. It's all about points.'

That was the professional speaking and those attending with a partisan view, ie. almost everyone, would probably agree with Hansen. For Liverpool this result meant relaxation for, mathematically, they are now all but clear of any relegation danger and Graeme Souness can turn to next season.

His first-choice defence, as this probably was, looked good. David James made one high miss but otherwise performed competently while the back four were virtually invulnerable. Liverpool's midfield was less effective, Jamie Redknapp's creativity being missed. Ronnie Whelan was

restrained while Liverpool's attack, Rush's one second of brilliance apart, was almost as palsied as Oldham's.

Steve McManaman is playing like a lad who has had too much football, needs a rest and is consequently trying too hard. In sharp contrast Mark Walters might have been rusty, as if his season was just starting. John Barnes looked happier in advanced central midfield; if he could tackle he could aspire to become another Brian McClair. Even Ronny Rosenthal, the Anfield pep pill, had a downer.

The turning point came when Mike Milligan had to come off. Up to that point the Latics had held their own in midfield and, just as importantly, used the ball well. Milligan's departure, followed later by that of Ian Olney, who had flu, upset Oldham's balance.

The goal followed a midfield error. Rush was found in space on the right, wide of his sentries, and allowed to cut in across the line of the area, hitting a left-foot shot on the run with stunning force and accuracy high into the far corner. Paul Gerrard, who has won one distinction for Oldham this year, that of being the Premier League's most improved goalkeeper, was, for the only occasion in the match, left groping.

The Latics then had to launch their trialist Orpheo Keizersweerd, from the French Second Division, who showed one or two nice touches and actually managed the Latics' second shot on goal but he had that air of general bewilderment borne by Continental players when first exposed to the speed of premier English football. Joe Royle, ex-centre forward, was left musing on Rush: 'If they'll give him a free, we're interested.'

Goal: Rush (60) 1-0.

Liverpool: James; Jones, Burrows, Nicol, Wright, Whelan, McManaman (Rosenthal, 63), Hutchison, Rush, Barnes, Walters. Substitutes not used: Piechnik, Hooper (gk).

Oldham Athletic: Gerrard; Halle, Pointon, Barlow, Jobson, Fleming, Adams, Beckford, Olney (Keizersweerd, 45), Milligan (McDonald, 40), Bernard. Substitute not used: Keeley (gk).

Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).