The majesty of McAllister lifts Liverpool

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The Independent Football

Sunday is fast becoming catch-up time for Liverpool. Inspired by Gary McAllister, who initiated Coventry's demise with his first goal for his new club against the one who let him leave last summer, they regained third place in the Premiership yesterday just as they did by winning last month's Merseyside derby.

Sunday is fast becoming catch-up time for Liverpool. Inspired by Gary McAllister, who initiated Coventry's demise with his first goal for his new club against the one who let him leave last summer, they regained third place in the Premiership yesterday just as they did by winning last month's Merseyside derby.

McAllister, who will be 36 on Christmas Day, revelled in being paired in midfield with Steven Gerrard, 20, for the first time. The former Scotland captain's set-piece precision created Liverpool's second goal for Gerrard and the third by Emile Heskey, who made the most of Coventry's late disarray by addinganother to take his tally for the season into double figures.

In between Gerrard's second of the season and Heskey's first of the afternoon, Coventry's David Thompson emulated McAllister by scoring against the club he left during the close season. A spectacular strike it was, too, yet Liverpool would have confirmed the Midlanders' fourth consecutive League defeat far earlier but for the wayward finishing of Michael Owen and the defiance of the 19-year-old Chris Kirkland.

Afterwards, McAllister described the 6ft 5in Kirkland as "an England keeper of the future", which makes it all the more surprising that he is not even in the Under-21 squad for this week's trip to Italy. All six Liverpool players in the senior party will travel, even though Heskey has a stiff groin.

Before Thompson's goal, a veritable bolt from the Sky Blue, Liverpool had looked likely to keep only their fourth clean sheet in 13 matches. Having posted the division's best defensive record last season, they had begun to leak sloppy goals, leading Gérard Houllier to mark the second anniversary of his solo tenure by reverting to a central duo of Sami Hyypia and Stéphane Henchoz and dropping Christian Ziege and Jamie Carragher.

Scoring goals is less of a problem for Liverpool, and McAllister's early breakthrough followed a panicky clearance by Ivan Guerrero. Owen's shot was blocked, but the veteran pounced on the loose ball, leaving Richard Shaw and Paul Williams floundering beforedriving home from 12 yards.

For a time, though, things became so becalmed that the exhortations of Houllier and Gordon Strachan could be clearly heard, although both were out-shouted by the Frenchman's No 2, Phil Thompson, screaming: "Get the ball, Macca."

Manfully as McAllister strove to oblige, Liverpool suffered because of Owen's relative lack of sharpness. Starting a match for the first time since sustaining a head injury at Derby a month earlier, his rustiness manifested itself in a succession of fluffed opportunities.

It would be harsh to include his 44th-minute volley in the latter category, Kirkland having made a fine save. However, Owen blazed wildly wide after being sent clear by McAllister's majestic pass immediately after the break and was also off target when the pass of the game - Gerrard's lofted, diagonal 40-yard ball - played him through on the hour.

It might have been an important miss, for Liverpool were then leading 2-1 and enduring their only anxious phase. Gerrard had doubled their advantage shortly after half-time, heading powerfully through Kirkland's despairing grasp as McAllister's corner picked him out at the near post.

Thompson, returning to Anfield after a £2.75m move, halved the arrears five minutes later. His drive from out on the right tore past Sander Westerveld, who might have been expected to make a better fist of saving from 30 yards.

If the Dutchman was culpable, he soon redeemed himself by smothering Craig Bellamy's shot after the striker raced on to Thompson's pass with only the keeper to beat.

This uncomfortably close call stirred Liverpool to greater efforts, even if it took the onceunthinkable hauling off of Owen to restore their cutting edge. McAllister was again involved as Coventry's hopes of poaching a point were ended by Heskey's growing assurance in front of goal.

The Scot's corner kick was flicked on by Markus Babbel to the far post, where Heskey rose unattended to head in. Five minutes later, Heskey revealed that his armoury contains subtlety as well as pace and power, lobbing the keeper from the edge of the 18-yard area. Only a marvellously athletic one-handed save by Kirkland prevented Liverpool's cult- hero-in-waiting from rounding off the rout with a hat-trick.

Goals: McAllister (13) 1-0; Gerrard (51) 2-0; Thompson (56) 2-1; Heskey (82) 3-1; Heskey (87) 4-1.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Westerveld; Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, Traoré; Barmby, McAllister, Gerrard (Carragher, 78), Smicer (Ziege, 87); Owen (Murphy, 68), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Fowler, Arphexad (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Kirkland; Breen, Shaw, Williams, Guerrero (Edworthy, 58); Thompson, Palmer, Strachan (Eustace, 84), Chippo (Roussel, 57); Hadji, Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Hendry, Miller (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Booking: Coventry City: Thompson.

Man of the match: McAllister.

Attendance: 43,701.

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