Football: Souness improves on age-old problem

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The Independent Online
Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

DOMINIC MATTEO used to clean the boots of Peter Beardsley and Co at Liverpool; now the 19-year-old is trying to fill them.

The Reds' erstwhile pre-eminence emanated from nurturing the likes of Matteo and his mate Robbie Fowler in isolated leisure at Melwood before introducing them to crowded houses at Anfield. This accepted practice has been undermined in recent years by promoting apprentices before their tuition was complete. Now, Graeme Souness aims to ration the initiations.

The education - and potential prosperity - of these low-cost aspirants has been assisted by the millions spent this season on proven first-teamers; Dicks, Ruddock and Clough (plus the enduring maturity of Wright, Nicol and Rush) have provided solidity in important areas, so permitting the tyros' insertion. Five Premiership games without loss, a run that has swept Liverpool to fifth, indicates that Souness may finally have found the formula for blending fledgling and veteran talents.

'We've had to introduce three or four, some of them boys, when the pressure was on,' Souness said. 'The ideal situation is to introduce one or two at a time.'

The current Kop Kids - Fowler, Matteo and Steve Harkness, who formed the left flank against West Ham - represent one of the most promising groups in the country. The Rush-like Fowler is an established force while Matteo, a lanky player with a tidy touch, scored against the Hammers, although the concluding ricochet came off Alvin Martin. Harkness, a hugely improved version of last season's slightly error-prone figure, earned deserved praise from Souness.

The post-match merriment, enhanced by the imminent prospect of John Barnes' return, could have been much different. West Ham found a number of ways towards but not past Bruce Grobbelaar.

A scoreless first half was still eventful: Rob Jones departed with a knee injury which will keep him out of England's San Marino tie, a spectator was helped away after being poleaxed by an erratic clearance, another of which was caught casually by the man from Clubcall without pausing in his commentary.

Mr 0891 had more to regale his listeners with late on when Clough powered a shot past Ludek Miklosko, who was then beaten again by Matteo. The Dumfries-born teenager would have none of the Martin own goal speculation. 'It's in the paper as me,' he smiled, clutching a Pink 'Un. There will be more.

Goals: Clough (67) 1-0; Matteo (83) 2-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Grobbelaar; Jones (Redknapp, 18), Wright, Ruddock, Harkness; Nicol (Bjornebye, 85), Clough, Stewart, Matteo; Rush, Fowler. Substitute not used: James (gk).

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Martin, Burrows; Marsh, Butler, Bishop, Holmes; Morley, Chapman. Substitutes not used: Rush, Rowland, Peyton (gk).

Referee: K Barrett (Coventry).