Ince's leadership quality

Liverpool 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
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In Paul Ince, Liverpool have a leader who can not only point the way back to domestic success, but also give them the power and purpose they will need in Europe.

That was the evidence of a dominant performance by their captain in a potentially awkward match against opponents who embarrassed them at Anfield last season.

Ince was not only at his belligerant best in controlling the midfield, he also managed to be the most dangerous attacker on the field. By his own admission, he could have had a hat-trick - possibly even four - to set alongside a booking for clattering Steve Nicol. But it was entirely predictable that it should be he who was on the spot to claim the goal that set Liverpool on their way to victory.

It was Ince's commanding presence in the middle of the field that made them look such a different proposition from the team that has become so fallible at home over the last year. Other sides might function well as egalitarian democracies; Liverpool are at their best with an undisputed guv'nor calling the shots.

"There is a kind of awe about Ince," said the Wednesday manager David Pleat, depicting the psychological control that the Liverpool captain will always strive to exert. "You mustn't annoy him. You mustn't battle back at him.

"He's a very tough player, but you have to be tough with him. I didn't think we were physically strong enough with him and Michael Thomas."

With Jim Magilton making a tentative debut and Mark Pembridge obviously short of full fitness, Wednesday lacked that combative edge, although they briefly found it when their goal-scorer, Wayne Collins, came on as a late substitute.

Where they did well was in the middle of their defence, where Jon Newsome and Des Walker stove mightily to earn an honourable draw with Karlheinz Riedle and Michael Owen.

The trouble was that, having dealt so well with that threat, Sheffield found the danger surging through from other sources; from Ince, of course, but also from the persistent quality of Stig Inge Bjornebye on the left flank.

If British football ever retreats into insularity and has time to assess which of the foreign legion of the 1990s gave the best value to their importers, Bjornebye will surely merit a mention.

Rarely exposed in defence, it is his ability as an extra attacker that gives Liverpool a vital extra dimension. In his way, he was as tireless as Ince on Saturday, firing in shots and centres that always promised to produce an end result.

With Celtic beckoning tomorrow night, Liverpool's injury news was mixed. Steve Harkness was substituted early in the game and his groin strain is likely to keep him out. But, despite a late knock to the face, Riedle should be fit, as should Robbie Fowler.

Goals: Ince (55) 1-0; Thomas (68) 2-0; Collins (80) 2-1.

Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Kvarme, Wright, Harkness (Matteo, 28); Jones (McAteer 88), Thomas, Ince, Bjornebye; McManaman; Riedle (Berger, 73), Owen. Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Murphy.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-1-3-2): Pressman; Nolan, Newsome, Walker, Nicol (Briscoe, 68); Atherton; Whittingham, Magilton, Pembridge (Collins, 73); Di Canio; Hirst. Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Stefanovic, Clough.

Referee: G Poll (Berkhamsted).

Bookings: Liverpool: Ince. Sheffield Wednesday: Atherton.

Attendance: 34,705.

Man of the match: Ince.