While Wilkinson's Leeds United were about as colourless as their shirts, a vibrant Liverpool maintained their free-scoring form at Anfield - 21 goals in their past five home matches - to move up two places into second in the Premiership. The gap to Newcastle looks barely bridgeable at 12 points, but Liverpool can do no more than turn in performances of this quality.
Two goals for Robbie Fowler took his tally for the season to 22, and rather more unexpectedly there were two for the Liverpool central defender Neil Ruddock. But just as crucial to the result was the outstanding contribution of Stan Collymore, who deserved more than the one goal he had to settle for.
Admittedly Leeds were down to 10 men for the last half hour, when Liverpool scored four of their goals, and the sending-off of Gary Kelly was a clear example of the law's letter being followed rather than its spirit. But at the same time there was little Leeds had done up to that moment to suggest they were really in it to win, and as long as Lee Chapman has to stand in for Tony Yeboah, on African Nations' Cup duty with Ghana, their impact up front is going to be severely reduced.
When, on a hot night last August, these teams met at Elland Road in the second match of the season, matters were settled by a sensational goal from Yeboah, and defeat for Liverpool was compounded by a tackle on Collymore which put him out of the game and probably should have resulted in a penalty.
On a bitter January afternoon, fortunes were reversed as Collymore bestrode Anfield and Liverpool gained more benefit from a foul in the area than they probably should have done.
Their first goal arrived in the 15th minute when, following a short corner, Ruddock ran from deep to head in Rob Jones's cross, and apart from a brief spell towards the end of the first half in which Gary Speed and Gary McAllister forced good saves out of David James, Liverpool were comfortably in charge.
What accelerated Leeds's decline was the 61st-minute incident in which Jones ran into the area and had his legs taken from behind him by Kelly. There was no question of there being any intention to stop a clear goal- scoring opportunity, even if that was the effect of what was a genuine attempt to play the ball.
"He was only doing what any defender would have done," Wilkinson said, and Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, shared that view. But Kelly was shown the red card and Fowler strolled up to the spot to make it 2-0. The rest of the match was rendered largely academic.
Seven minutes later, Collymore must have been hugely gratified to hear the Kop chanting his name, not for scoring a goal but for creating one. After an unstoppable burst down the left he crossed for Fowler to stretch out a boot and put the ball in the roof of the net.
Leeds stuck at it, but in the last minute Collymore scored with a 25- yard shot that deceived Mark Beeney in the flight and Ruddock scored his second from a corner to make it 5-0.Reuse content