Football:Liverpool's Razor edge

Leeds United 0 Liverpool 2 (Ruddock 13, McManaman 90) Attendance: 39,981
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Liverpool bloodied Leeds with their razor-sharp first-half passing and then, just as they were recovering, battered them with a last-minute sucker punch.

Ian Rush, the Anfield old faithful, came out of the encounter still goalless and nursing his wounded pride: he was booked in the 58th minute for contesting too vigorously what George Graham later said was a certain penalty.

But the Leeds manager conceded that Liverpool could have won the game in the first five minutes as Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman repeatedly slipped cleanly through Leeds' defence like a red knife through white butter.

Their sharp one-two in the third minute cut a swathe through Leeds. Nigel Martyn saved McManaman's shot well, leaving Mark Ford to scold the right- sided midfielder for allowing the elusive Liverpudlian to escape. The penitent player, looking lost on the touchline, was Rush.

The inevitable goal, though, was an ugly slash compared to the clinical cuts that had preceded it. Stig Bjornebye's corner ricocheted off Carlton Palmer to Neil Ruddock, who scythed it back through the defender's legs and into the net. Immediately, Rod Wallace was substituted and Rush pushed forward to his more familiar position, as Graham patched up his midfield after his vain attempt to stem Liverpool.

Even after half-time, Liverpool poured forward, with Martyn saving superbly from John Barnes and then Ruddock. But still Liverpool were just one ahead and the predatory Rush was lurking with intent to open his account for his new club. In the 58th minute, Gary Kelly's cross seemed destined for his head as he rushed to the near post. From out of nowhere slid Mark Wright and Ruddock to concede a corner. Clearly, according to Rush, by using a hand. He tangled verbally with the referee, then physically with Jason McAteer and Wright, and gained only a yellow card.

"The lad only used one hand," complained Graham although Roy Evans was of the opinion it had struck Wright's chest. Graham said: "A penalty would have given us a leg up, and a game we should have lost we could have won."

For until the sucker punch, Leeds had exerted great pressure on David James's goal without forcing the keeper into making a save. Then, in injury time, Ruddock put the gloss on Liverpool's first clean sheet in 11 games with a long punt which found Martyn all of 50 yards off his line. Previously impeccable, Martyn slipped as he controlled the ball, presenting McManaman with the easiest opportunity to make the final cut.