Home truths for Liverpool
Football: Liverpool 1 Leicester City 1
Friday 27 December 1996
It is either feast or famine for Roy Evans' side. After three home games which produced two goals and two points, they scored nine times in winning the next two in front of their own supporters. Against a Leicester team who work as hard as any in the division, they were back to their most unimaginative.
Once again the key to stopping Liverpool lay in stifling Steve McManaman. Taking his cue from the recent success of Sheffield Wednesday's Peter Atherton, in trailing the wandering minstrel wherever he went, Martin O'Neill deployed Colin Hill in a man-marking role. McManaman was ineffective, and, with Robbie Fowler absent because of an ankle injury, Liverpool were bereft of inspiration and penetration.
Leicester were not solely intent upon a spoiling game, however. The engine- room access of Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet gave them abundant possession. That they were unable in the main to translate it into scoring opportunities was due to the fact that Liverpool's defence were in no mood to take prisoners, as evinced by their harsh treatment of Emil Heskey.
The Leicester prodigy, who will not be 19 until next month, was frequently dumped on his backside. Jason McAteer, in particular, appeared to be conducting a vendetta against Heskey, although when he was shown the red card, moments before the visitors scored, it was for fouling Lennon. Five Leicester men were cautioned, with Neil Ruddock the only other Liverpool player booked; some things never change at Anfield.
The match had a lively start when Collymore raced clear on to Pontus Kamark's back-header. A weak shot, straight at Kasey Keller, proved more indicative of what lay in store. The Leicester keeper was not tested again until Patrik Berger's drive afforded him another routine stop near half- time.
In the interim, Izzet put the ball in David James' net from an offside position, while the outstanding Lennon let fly from 30 yards but could not defeat James' giant reach. Yet increasingly, despite Hill's disciplined shadowing of McManaman, Leicester were forced in to deep defence.
All the more surprising, then, that they broke out to score with 15 minutes left. When Lennon's shot cannoned off Michael Thomas, the ball fell kindly to Claridge just inside the penalty area. A right-footed drive across James, brought the striker his seventh goal of the season.
Three minutes later, for almost the only time, McManaman escaped his marker to help haul Liverpool level. Feeding the ball into a crowded penalty area, he set up a one-two between Mark Wright and Collymore which ended in the latter dispatching his own seventh of the season from close range.
A Berger header in stoppage time might have given Liverpool three points, only for Keller to swoop to his right and save. A goal then would have been cruel for Leicester, whose effort O'Neill labelled "phenomenal".
He had only one complaint; that they had not stayed in front long enough for him to enjoy it. Evans, meanwhile, found himself in the familiar position of searching for consolation amid the frustration. "We showed we're desperate not to get beaten," he said. It is going to take rather more than resilience and spirit to bring the title home.
Liverpool: (3-4-2-1) James; Wright, Ruddock, Babb (Matteo, 68); McAteer, Thomas, Barnes, Bjorneby (Kennedy, 68); McManaman, Berger; Collymore. Substitutes not used: Carragher, L Jones, Warner (gk).
Leicester City: (4-1-4-1) Keller; Grayson, Pryor, Marshall, Kamark (Lewis, 43); Hill; Campbell (Taylor, 51), Lennon, Izzet, Heskey; Claridge. Substitutes not used: Watts, Lawrence, Poole (gk).
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).
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