Liverpool just a passing fancy

FOOTBALL COMMENTARY
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Joe Kinnear had been there before. As the media cornered him in Selhurst Park's press shack, he said: "You should all be asking and writing about good performances, but you will only be interested in Vinnie Jones."

Too right. Although Wimbledon's 1-0 win over Liverpool on Saturday was the stuff of heroic poetry, Jones' 10th sending off of his unpleasant career was the centre of interest.

Or was it? As David Mellor, encouraged by the farce element, attempted to guide Six-O-Six callers into discussing the dismissal, a succession of disgruntled Liverpool supporters concentrated on the real story of the day, their team's lack of penetration.

While taking nothing away from Wimbledon's excellent defensive peformance, the match highlighted why Roy Evans has just paid pounds 4.5m for Jason McAteer.

Liverpool are beautiful to watch, they possess players of great touch and quality, and several high-class finishers. However, faced with 10 men for 66 minutes, they created very few clear chances - the best two both came from defensive errors.

Liverpool have always been a passing club, but the current team take the principle to such an extreme one might think they were on piece-work rates. The trend was apparent from the early moments, when Steve McManaman weaved across the area, worked himself a shooting position, then passed out of the box.

Within a minute the ball came back in, and Stan Collymore, Evans' other new recruit, turned and shot just past a post. Collymore's head-down-and- go-for-goal approach may not be customary Liverpool practice, but it gives them a fresh dimension and is the reason Evans bought him. With greater sharpness - it was his first game for three weeks - he may have won Liverpool the game.

Only one other player took the responsibility of shooting - Jamie Redknapp - and he did it so badly that from his eight shots he only forced two saves from Paul Heald. Over-elaboration is not a new problem, it surfaced regularly at Anfield last year. When a side comes out to play, like Tottenham did a fortnight ago, Liverpool get space to flourish. But, when the opposition defend in depth, as Wimbledon were forced to, they pass themselves into culs-de-sac.

McAteer has the same direct approach as Collymore, and he will add urgency to the midfield and width to the attack. On Saturday McManaman, their only wide player, looked drained by his midweek England game. He never beat a player with his dribbling and rarely found one with his passing.

Evans was as disappointed with the performance as the result. "It is not the end of the world, but for a while it felt like it," he said. "They were there for the taking."

But Wimbledon are never there for the taking. Among a team of good performances, Chris Perry, Heald and Mick Harford stood out. Perry, 20, was magnificent when he came on to replace the injured Andy Thorn and mark Collymore. Heald, another rising star, made two stunning saves and Harford, a pounds 50,000 buy last August, was a composed influence.

Initially, however, Wimbledon could not get the ball as Liverpool overran them. When Jones was dismissed, after 24 minutes, defeat seemed certain.

Jones went after a midfield tussle between Thorn and Collymore developed into what Keith Burge, the referee, later described as "handbags at five paces". Then Jones came steaming in. To pull the players apart? Not likely. He barged in head down and, according to the nearby linesman, Roy Gould, made "head-to-head contact" with Collymore.

Mr Burge, boldly and correctly, backed his linesman and dismissed Jones. But, in the confusion, Thorn thought the red card had been waved at him and left the pitch. Jones then departed, angrily shouting at Collymore, who had also left the pitch for repairs to a badly cut lip.

Television evidence suggested Jones did not butt Collymore's head. But slowing down the video revealed that Collymore's injury was probably caused by a Jones punch, thrown under cover of the melee like a front-row delivering an uppercut in the scrum. Of 22 players, only Alan Kimble and Heald had stayed aloof from the brawl.

Meanwhile Wimbledon, having discovered Thorn had not been dismissed, frantically summoned him from the dressing room where he was already getting changed. And, within minutes, Phil Babb deflected Thorn's free-kick into his own goal.

Wimbledon then pulled back to defend their box like a basketball side. Robbie Fowler headed over, Michael Thomas hit the side-netting, then Heald made a fingertip reaction save from Collymore's flick. With two minutes to go, Robbie Earle's back-pass hit Alan Reeves and let Fowler in. Somehow Heald clawed the ball from his toes as he went round him and recovered to save McManaman's follow up.

Wimbledon lie third. They have spent pounds 125,000 this summer (on Heald). The six clubs around them spent pounds 50m. "You get your money's worth here," Kinnear said. He was talking about the drama, but he could easily have meant his players.

Goal: Babb (og, 28) 1-0.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Heald; Cunningham, Reeve, Thorn (Perry, 44), Kimble; Leonardson, Jones, Earle, Gayle (Goodman, 83); Ekoku (Clarke, 62), Harford.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Wright, Ruddock, Babb; Jones, McManaman, Redknapp, Barnes, Harkness (Thomas, h-t); Collymore, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Matteo, Warner (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

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