Football: Whipping boys lash out at Liverpool

Liverpool 0 Barnsley 1
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The Independent Online
It is fair to say Peter Markstedt must be something of a glutton for punishment. Having suffered relegation with his Swedish club Vasteras two weeks ago, Barnsley was not, perhaps, the best bet for an extended run in the top flight of another domestic competition.

The strapping central defender's shoulders, however, are amply broad enough to carry the burden of improving a goals against record of 40 in the previous 14 Premiership outings.

More than a mere physical presence, though, the pounds 250,000 signing demonstrated an invaluable maturity and reassuring composure in a display fundamental to achieving the sort of result which can turn a season around.

"I expected Peter to play like that," said manager Danny Wilson. "He had a fantastic debut for us. But he has set a standard now and he has to produce that every week. I thought the understanding with Arjan de Zeeuw was very good and Lars Leese was very commanding, taking a lot of pressure off the lads at the back."

The Swede, his equally impressive Dutch partner De Zeeuw and the goalkeeper Leese, form an imposing physical barrier. With Eric Tinkler and Neil Redfearn making life difficult for Liverpool in midfield, and Ashley Ward an awkward and intelligent target man, Wilson is moulding a skeleton staff into the sort of rigid spine that must support any side.

Ward's early goal ensured that Barnsley also displayed previously undisclosed guts. Against superior opposition, however, determination alone was not enough and the Yorkshireman came of age tactically. Markstedt, dominant in the air and on the ground, marshalled a resolute back four. The lateral runs of Michael Owen and Karlheinz Riedle were tracked but not blindly pursued.

One of Markstedt's predecessors in the centre of defence, Adie Moses, added weight to the "stop Steve McManaman, stop Liverpool theory". McManaman would not have been surprised had the youngster turned up for Sunday breakfast, such was his devotion to duty.

It all represents a more pragmatic approach to life at the top level, adopted long before the Premiership's previous whipping boys, Swindon Town, realised that football principles must be tempered in a realistic attempt to survive.

Redfearn, the captain, summed up the new realism: "Hardly any of us have had any experience of football at this level before. We have played in the wrong area and come unstuck. We have taken some heavy defeats but a lot of it could have been avoided. In the Premiership, players are capable of having a good look at the start, discovering your weaknesses and, before you know it, they've hit you."

The Scotland Under-21 player Andy Liddell displayed a charming side to this learning curve in the build-up to the goal. Any Premiership old head would have crumpled under David James' challenge to claim a clear penalty. Liddell, however, leapt to his feet and pulled the ball back into the danger area but straight to Patrik Berger. His poor control presented Ward, who had only resumed training on Tuesday after being floored by a strain of viral meningitis, with a simple conversion.

Liverpool have developed a worrying trait of feast or famine, the latter readily jeered by the Anfield support. Attention appears focused on strengthening the defence, but only two Premiership sides have conceded fewer goals. This was another occasion when enough chances were created, particularly for Riedle and Oyvind Leonhardsen and especially as the Barnsley defence tired, but the final effort was consistently poor. The combined return of Saturday's strike pair, Riedle and Owen, of just four league goals must be a real worry for manager Roy Evans in the absence of Robbie Fowler for next Sunday's trip to Arsenal.

Goal: Ward (35) 0-1.

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; McAteer, Matteo, Kvarme, Bjornebye (Murphy, 65); McManaman, Berger, Redknapp, Leonhardsen; Owen, Riedle. Substitutes not used: Harkness, Ruddock, Carragher, Nielsen (gk).

Barnsley (4-4-2): Leese; Eaden, De Zeeuw, Markstedt, Barnard; Bullock, Tinkler, Redfearn, Moses; Liddell (Appleby, 68), Ward (Hendrie, 86). Substitutes not used: Bosancic, Hristov, Watson (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

Booking: Liverpool: Matteo.

Man of the match: Markstedt.

Attendance: 41,011.