McAllister relishes entering red zone

With a new season beckoning, Liverpool and Fulham boast debutants they hope will lead them to success
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Gerard Houllier has spent £20m since March in an attempt to give Liverpool a future to match the past but if any transfer surprised this summer it was one that cost nothing and looked back as much as it did forward.

Gerard Houllier has spent £20m since March in an attempt to give Liverpool a future to match the past but if any transfer surprised this summer it was one that cost nothing and looked back as much as it did forward.

Bringing Gary McAllister, 36 on Christmas Day, to Anfield was hardly a nod in the direction of youth. He is 10 years older than the average age of his colleagues and he was already employed by Motherwell before Steven Gerrard was born. He might nevertheless prove to be one of the shrewder investments of the close season.

Houllier was persuaded to hire the former Scotland captain, signed from Coventry City for nothing, courtesy of the Bosman ruling, because of his ability, rare in British-born players, to hold and pass the ball. In a team not bursting with natural leaders he also brings organisational skill and down-to-earth nous.

The plan was to use McAllister as an insurance policy against the potential frailty of Gerrard, whose persistent groin problems suggest he is a 40 rather than a 60-game-a-season player. But Liverpool look likely to be making claims on his talents from the start of the season. Jamie Redknapp goes to the United States tomorrow for a second knee operation and Dietmar Hamann, who had a disappointing Euro 2000 to cap a lacklustre last term, has hardly made an irrefutable case for inclusion. The stop-gap might just stop in the side.

Certainly McAllister does not speak like a man hoping to eke out his dotage on the Anfield bench. "As soon as I heard Liverpool were interested in me I was going to come here. I have come from a club whose manager, Gordon Strachan, proved you can go on playing until you are 38 or 39 if you look after yourself."

The attraction of Anfield was the chance to play in the Uefa Cup and yesterday, in a pre-season friendly against Stoke, you could see the admiration was not solely one-sided. The other Liverpool players looked to McAllister on a regular basis to launch attacks in a side without 11 players who figured at the European Championships.

The match was lost 1-0, thanks to a 30th-minute goal from Stefan Thordarson, but McAllister had clearly won over some of the doubters among the Liverpool supporters who gave him an ovation when he left the field after 65 minutes.

Prompting and passing, McAllister was a rare success in a red shirt in a match which Houllier described as satisfactory and the result unsurprising. "We were like a diesel," the Liverpool manager said, "We have done a lot of hard work and we could keep on running for a long time but there was no explosive change of pace."

As for McAllister, Houllier added: "He did well. He has worked hard." The player himself is under no illusions that his age will shade opinion. "I know it will need just one bad game and people will say that I'm too old," he said.

Yesterday suggested more good ones than bad ones are likely to follow. You suspect he is looking forward to proving a lot of people wrong.

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