Red stars in Mooney's shadow FA Premiership: Taylor triumphant as Watford plunder their first points at a disbelieving Anfield

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REVERSING HISTORICAL precedents and ridiculing nationwide expectations Watford, who had never before garnered so much as a single point at Anfield, breathed in yesterday and stole all three.

REVERSING HISTORICAL precedents and ridiculing nationwide expectations Watford, who had never before garnered so much as a single point at Anfield, breathed in yesterday and stole all three.

In claiming the game's only goal their delightfully unglamorous, workaday striker Tommy Mooney, a boyhood Liverpool supporter, added his name to the limited list of those who have scored at all four levels of the English domestic game. Of greater significance, he enabled Watford to break their Premiership duck and prompted some of the more bullish Liverpool supporters to review their pre-season expectations.

There was no better commentary or soundtrack for the afternoon than that supplied by the Kop. Beginning the day in colourful cacophony, singing with audible "hope in their hearts", they progressed - via catcalls and whistles - to a generous and sincere acclamation of their visitors' achievement.

That is what the Watford manager Graham Taylor - his voice broken by an afternoon's bellowing and, perhaps, a modicum of emotion - highlighted when he spoke of an "absolutely tremendous day for all concerned".

Taylor went on: "The icing on the cake, for me, was hearing Liverpool's fans applaud us off. In these days of all the tension, hype and pressure of the modern game, it was good to hear fans do that. I know my players were impressed and will remember it, too. It is to those fans' credit that they can do that. They weren't saying we were better than their players, but they appreciated how we had played. To get three points from a place like Liverpool will make lots of people sit up and think, 'that's a hell of a result'. It will do our morale so much good."

Taylor was also unstinting in his praise of Mooney, whom he admitted to having released from Aston Villa years ago, considering him unsuitable for the top division. "I gave Tommy a free and told him he wasn't good enough for the top flight," Taylor said. "When I took over at Watford, Tommy was already there and he must have said to himself, 'bloody hell, he's come back to haunt me after all this time'. Tommy has been to Scarborough and Southend, and he has learned to make the most of his game. He's a manager's dream player. He's very wholehearted and, if he proves me wrong after this season, there will be nobody more pleased than me."

Swallowing humble pie, when required, is something that Taylor had always shown himself willing to do. On the subject of Mooney, the greater the portion the better and yesterday's serving was especially digestible. The goal arrived after a quarter of an hour. By then Watford had absorbed gallons of steadily falling rain and the significant drip-drip-drip of Liverpool pressure.

Though the Dutch keeper Sander Westerveld had saved ably from Richard Johnson's powerful drive, the suspicion remained that the anticipated torrent of home goals would not take long to materialise.

However, when Peter Kennedy swung in a low, left-footed free-kick, Westerveld received minimal assistance from his defenders, who allowed it to bobble nastily on the edge of the six-yard box. Mooney was quickest to react and steered home his first Premiership goal.

Fierce, sporadic downpours followed, alternating until half-time with fast, sporadic Liverpool thrusts. Vladimir Smicer, whose second-half injury will sideline him for three weeks, experimented with a variety of darts and angles; Titi Camara bulldozed the length of the field; Steven Gerrard and Jamie Redknapp fired just off target; and the Watford keeper Chris Day produced a pair of splendid saves.

Day, continuing in the absence of the injured Alec Chamberlain, shouldered a chunk of the blame for Watford's opening-day defeat by Wimbledon. But, in unnervingly slippery conditions for goalkeeping, he performed admirably here, confounding Patrik Berger with a one-on-one smother and an elastic tip-over.

A feisty start to the second half gave way to a sterility which represented a minor triumph for Watford, whose understandably unambitious target was - via laudably high levels of organisation - to cling on to what they held. Their match-slowing tactics acted as a very visible irritant to their hosts.

The increasingly fidgety Robbie Fowler did flicker threateningly into life with a swivelling shot and a sumptuous chip. Nothing, though, threatened Day's goal and as Liverpool necessarily committed men forward, their own predicament was nearly compounded. Mooney required Westerveld to block at his feet and Micah Hyde's rebound shot was headed off the line by Rigobert Song - the Cameroon substitute's first touch.

However, Liverpool survived without having extra salt rubbed into their wounded pride. That small mercy aside, their manager, Gerard Houllier, lamented: "It's a very disappointing result for us. Apart from the early stages of the game, I never recognised my team today."

Taylor, a close friend of Houllier, was only too proud that his hard-labouring line-up should come to this of all grounds and win. He, as a manager, had never before won at Anfield which, for all its recent trophy-lessness, remains one of the signature venues of the English game and offered Watford the first "pinch-me-I'm-dreaming" fixture of their Premiership fantasy. Now, with Mooney up among the stars, reality is no closer to dawning.