Hyypia's late strike lacking in conviction

Liverpool 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Football

Whenever discussion centres on Gérard Houllier's job tenure or Wolverhampton Wanderers' Premiership status, the words "slow lingering death" spring to mind. It was no great surprise, therefore, that neither cause was helped in this first Anfield meeting of the two clubs for 20 years.

The points went Liverpool's way, courtesy of Sami Hyypia's towering header in the last of three minutes of stoppage time. But the satisfaction of regaining fourth place, on goals scored, was overshadowed by just the sort of witless, sterile performance that is turning the screw on their manager.

Whether or not they limp into the Champions' League, they will need to play a whole lot better than this. The Frenchman admitted as much before delivering his latest hard-luck story.

"I just hope it's an honest mistake, it was a blatant penalty," he said of Jody Craddock's unpunished 26th-minute challenge on Emile Heskey. If deemed illegal, the desperate recovering tackle would have made the defender the referee Rob Styles' ninth red-card victim of the season.

The overriding impression, though, was familiar. Only Steven Gerrard rose anywhere near as high as the winds, Michael Owen's subdued contribution putting to flight notions that he was buzzing again after two goals against Portsmouth.

The plaudits belonged to Wolves, who made an even game of it for 70 minutes and ensured that Jerzy Dudek was the busier goalkeeper. They have failed to score in their last three games and, after dusting themselves down from their humiliation against Aston Villa, now have to pick themselves up again - at Chelsea on Saturday.

At least they produced a display worthy of more. With Paul Ince relishing his return to a club where he felt kicked out by Houllier, they were in sight of completing an excellent afternoon's work when they were struck by a double blow.

Not only did Liverpool's 14th and final corner prove one too many, but at virtually the same moment Marcus Bent's equaliser at the Walker's Stadium meant Leicester City, not Wolves, benefited from a one-point swing on the drop-o-meter.

"I don't think we deserved that," their manager, Dave Jones, said. "They weren't causing us any problems in open play. Unfortunately, we invited pressure by giving away silly free-kicks and one led to a corner that we didn't defend well enough."

Ince, Alex Rae and Paul Butler were Wolves' best performers, as they have been for most of the season, but their combined age is 101 and all three are out of contract in the summer. But boyhood Liverpool fan Mark Clyde impressed after being preferred to Denis Irwin, and Vio Ganea and Kenny Miller stretched Hyypia and the errant Igor Biscan.

At the height of Wolves' survival effort two months ago, Miller struck the winner against Manchester United and hit a brilliant last-gasp equaliser against Liverpool. On this occasion the clock would not tick round quickly enough for a side still without a top-flight away win since beating Liverpool's all-conquering side of 1983-84. Alas, in the bigger picture, time is beginning to run out.

Goal: Hyypia (90) 1-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 5; Carragher 4, Biscan 3, Hyypia 5, Riise 5; Murphy 4 (Sinama-Pongolle, 84), Hamann 4, Gerrard 7, Kewell 4 (Diouf 4, 60); Heskey 3 (Baros 5, 60), Owen 4. Substitutes not used: Luzi (gk), Henchoz.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jones 5; Clyde 6, Butler 7, Craddock 5, Naylor 5; Camara 6, Ince 7, Rae 7, Kennedy 4 (Cort, 81); Ganea 6 (Newton 4, 70), Miller 5. Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Cameron, Irwin.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire) 5.

Booking: Wolverhampton: Newton.

Man of the Match: Gerrard.

Attendance: 43,795.

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