Liverpool looking the part but foreign influx fails Ipswich

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The Independent Online

The leaving of Liverpool grieved Gary McAllister almost as much as departing the Premiership wounded Ipswich, although the nature of the new Coventry player-manager's regrets contrasted starkly with the Suffolk club's largely self-inflicted suffering.

McAllister takes over at Highfield Road today after what he described as as an "emotional" farewell to Anfield. The only sadness was the sense that he was going just as Liverpool were on the verge of re-establishing their pre-eminence in English football.

"There's a tinge of jealousy now that I'm leaving," the 37-year-old midfielder confessed. "I can see a big push for the Championship coming from here next season. When a team gets 80 points and people say they haven't played well all year, you have to wonder what they might achieve if they do hit form. When you consider everything that has happened, finishing second has been a great achievement."

McAllister was alluding to the five-month absence of Gérard Houllier after heart surgery and Markus Babbel's season-long illness. Unlike the Scot's former club, Leeds, Liverpool appeared to draw strength from such tribulations, yet he believed the manager would not be afraid to risk disturbing their unity in his restless quest to recapture the title and the European Cup.

"I think there will be new faces," said McAllister. "That's the tradition at Liverpool. They have always added, even during successful periods." High among their priorities must be a right-sided midfielder; a player to replicate the combination of width, attacking threat and defensive solidity which John Arne Riise brought to the opposite flank on Saturday.

Riise's left foot is like a mortar. In an otherwise even first half, he twice struck with his trademark blend of ferocity and flamboyance. Once Ipswich trailed, their morale collapsed to the extent that the normally powder-puff Vladimir Smicer began to resemble a powerhouse.

It was therefore surprising to hear their manager, George Burley, repeatedly claim that "we showed today that we've got quality". Perhaps he was in denial, for if Ipswich showed poise in possession they were alarmingly spineless whenever Liverpool had the ball.

Twelve months ago, Burley was deservedly named Manager of the Year after leading Ipswich into Europe via fifth place in their first campaign back in the Premiership. But, having proved adept at building a team, he made a poor fist of the next task, that of developing his squad.

Burley's signings, almost exclusively, were foreign players such as Finidi George, Matteo Sereni, Sixto Peralta, Ulrich Le Pen, Pablo Couñago and Thomas Gaardsoe. Tellingly, not one appeared in this supposedly do-or-die struggle, and Ipswich's chairman, David Sheepshanks, conceded that the influx had not worked.

"I don't think it particularly helped our cause," said Sheepshanks. "We recruited more players than we'd normally have done because we were in the Uefa Cup. Everyone knows it wasn't easy to assimilate them all into the cohesive unit that we'd had."

The realities of modern football mean the players Burley would hope to move on will be the hardest to offload and the greatest predatory interest will be in those he would rather keep. The striker Marcus Bent is already a target for Tottenham, while Newcastle are ready to pay £3m for Titus Bramble, who defended wretchedly here.

As Sheepshanks put it: "The next few weeks will obviously be an unsettling time. We're aware that the financial consequences of relegation mean a degree of squad re-organisation. Given the strength of the squad George has built up, I hope this won't be detrimental overall.

"Our target is to win the First Division, and I'm confident we've got sufficient spirit to bounce back. The fact that we won the Reserve League with so many home-grown players shows that the future is bright."

He insisted, just as his Coventry counterpart did with Gordon Strachan a year ago, that Burley remains "the right man to bring us straight back up". Ipswich found it a tough division to escape before, however, and it will be the more arduous should Celtic and Rangers join Wolves, Derby, Leicester and the rest.

McAllister will also be striving to ensure that this was not his Premiership swansong, despite the moving send-off. "When the whole ground sings your name like that, it's very emotional," he said. "That sort of ovation is usually reserved for proper Liverpool legends and heroes. Maybe I've made more impact here than I thought."

Liverpool 5 Ipswich Town 0

Goals: Riise (12) 1-0; Riise (35) 2-0; Owen (46) 3-0; Smicer (57) 4-0; Anelka (87) 5-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 7; Abel Xavier 6 (Anelka, 84), Henchoz 7, Hyypia 7, Carragher 6; Gerrard 6 (Smicer 8, 32), Murphy 6 (McAllister, 81), Hamman 7, Riise 8; Heskey 7, Owen 7. Substitutes not used: Vignal, Arphexad (gk).

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Marshall 5; Bramble 3, McGreal 4 (Wilnis 4, 39), Venus 5, Hreidarsson 4; Clapham 5, T Miller 4, Holland 4, Reuser 6; D Bent 5 (Stewart 4, 69), M Bent 4 (Armstrong, 81). Substitutes not used: Peralta, Sereni (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol) 8.

Man of the match: Riise.

Attendance: 44,088.

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