Football: Wright on the mark

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The Independent Online
Liverpool. . . .1

Southampton. . .1

A SURPRISINGLY positive Southampton side last night provided further proof that Anfield is not the impregnable fortress of old, earning their second draw this year in front of the Kop and forcing Liverpool to settle for a third successive stalemate.

After a previous visit, in February, Ian Branfoot's side were widely criticised for a bruising, negative performance in a goalless game. This time they matched Liverpool pass for pass, and deservedly went ahead early in the second half through Kerry Dixon's first goal since signing from Chelsea.

The FA Cup holders quickly drew level with a Mark Wright header, his first goal in a competitive fixture for Liverpool, and almost snatched victory with 10 minutes remaining. However, the substitute, Michael Thomas, contrived to turn the ball against an upright from a yard out.

Against that, Southampton could point to an even worse miss,if that is possible, by David Speedie in the 18th minute. The former Liverpool striker also headed against the crossbar shortly before Wright's equaliser against his one-time employers.

Before the game Lennart Johansson, the president of Uefa, formally opened Liverpool's pounds 8m Centenary Stand, while a pop band hammered out 'Congratulations'. It looked a prescient selection as Jan Molby put his considerable weight behind a fourth-minute drive, but Tim Flowers fisted the ball clear acrobatically.

As Liverpool lost their early impetus so Southampton's confidence grew. In the 18th minute, Dixon robbed David Burrows and advanced into the penalty area before driving the ball across goal. Speedie, almost on the line by the far post, somehow scooped it over.

David James, put on England stand-by, again showed that command of the area is not yet his strongest suit. At 6ft 4in he might have been expected to claim a hanging centre by Micky Adams after 35 minutes, but remained on his line. Matthew Le Tissier's almost casual volley narrowly cleared the bar.

There was no such reprieve seven minutes after the interval. Le Tissier crossed, James was again inert, and Dixon steered the ball home. Speedie could then have deepened the crowd's dismay, but his free header rebounded off the woodwork to James.

This stung Liverpool into life. They drew level on the hour when Molby floated a free-kick into the danger area, where the mysteriously unmarked Wright scored easily. Thomas's miss - from the kind of chance, ironically, on which Dean Saunders thrives - ensured that Southampton received their just reward.

Liverpool: James; R Jones, Burrows, Harkness, Whelan, Wright, McManaman, Redknapp (Thomas, 64), Rush, Molby, Walters, Substitutes not used: Marsh, Hooper (gk).

Southampton: Flowers; Dodd, Adams, Hurlock, Monkou, Moore, Le Tissier, Maddison, Dixon, Speedie, Benali. Substitutes not used: Kenna, Banger, Andrews (gk).

Referee: R A Hart (Darlington).