Liverpool are lost in their midfield mess

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The Independent Online
ALAN NIXON

Liverpool 1 Southampton 1

It's unusual for the Kop to find a new song with their wide repertoire of football ditties. However a fresh name is on their lips.

Steve Harkness has been at Anfield for five years and has finally made it to the top of their charts, a sleeper if ever there was one. Hearing him singled out for praise was the most memorable moment of a forgettable game.

Harkness was drafted from his left-back position to sweeper to give the most accomplished display by a player in a red shirt, a fact acknowledged by his personal tribute from the stands.

Such personal consolation was a rarity in a game when Liverpool stretched their barren spell to seven. Black November was almost the Nightmare before Christmas until Stan Collymore equalised with a trademark goal. Collymore wheeled away to receive a John Barnes pass and thrash a shot high into the net six minutes after Neil Shipperley headed a competitive but limited Southampton side in front.

The goal, Collymore's first in almost three months, ended a run of four straight home defeats but did little to conceal the problems at Liverpool that are not being properly addressed.

Harkness shone in a three-man defence, but the midfeld was a shambles. Steve McManaman was lost in the middle when he should be wide, Jason McAteer ran into blind alleys and Barnes simply cannot raise a gallop. Jamie Redknapp cannot return quickly enough.

A better side than Southampton would have won the match inside the first quarter of an hour. As Matt Le Tisssier observed: "Tactically we looked better prepared and we showed that for the first 15 minutes. It's the first time we've come away from Anfield thinking we could have got all three points."

The fixation with packed midfields meant the contest was dreary in the extreme. Le Tissier apart, the bodies cluttering the centre circle produced a reminder that no system can disguise a lack of basic skills. Liverpool can rarely have played so many meaningless balls within such a short run of games.

For Southampton it was the first of many such experiences they will endure in the coming months. In Ken Monkou and Richard Hall they have two defenders who represent the belief that they shall survive once more.

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