Liverpool prepare to fulfil their potential

Football

One of the more astonishing calls to Radio Five Live's Six-O-Six recently suggested that Roy Evans ought to be dismissed as Liverpool manager. He is out of his depth was the crux of the argument, which somehow forgot the small matter of the Coca-Cola Cup last season.

It was a facile suggestion then and made even more so now that Liverpool have rediscovered the verve that deserted them in November. Those who witnessed their recent destruction of Manchester United could testify that this is a team with delicious potential, and that Evans is about as under water as Neil Ruddock in the three-foot end.

"Roy Evans has rebuilt Liverpool into a youthful, strong-looking team," Bruce Rioch, the Arsenal manager, said in the aftermath of their 3-1 defeat at Anfield on Saturday. "When you play an excellent side like them you get a measure of your own ability. We've got a lot of work to do if we want to challenge."

The inference was that Liverpool can win the Premiership, a challenge that will assume more weight if they defeat sixth-placed Aston Villa today.

Their greatest source of optimism comes from the strike partnership that once had the synchronicity of Morecambe and Costello, but has since gelled to an extent - Nottingham Forest supporters please note - that Stan Collymore provided the passes for all three of Robbie Fowler's goals on Saturday.

"People say that Robbie and Stan can't play together," Evans said. "I think against Arsenal they proved it is not a problem." He is realistic enough, however, not to underestimate Newcastle's 11-point advantage over his side. "We cannot afford any more slip-ups."

Kevin Keegan, a former Anfield player, said: "I believe Liverpool will still feature in the title race. I watched them beat Manchester United and some of their football was the best I've seen this season."

Villa's manager, Brian Little, has a "broken heart" to mend, not to mention a little restoration of morale after a 1-0 defeat at Queen's Park Rangers.

The boy with the crushed core is 18-year-old Lee Hendrie, who spoilt his debut by being sent off for a second bookable offence eight minutes into injury time. His chance to redeem himself will depend on Ian Taylor's ability to recover from ankle and shin injuries.

Top scorer Dwight Yorke is set to return after suffering a broken nose, while Mark Draper, replaced by Hendrie after 34 minutes at QPR, should recover from a bruised thigh.

The task for QPR today is a trip to Arsenal, who are searching for their first win in six League matches. Tony Adams is certain to return for the Gunners after suspension. "We need to make one or two changes in personnel," Rioch said. Brace yourselves for more stories linking the club to Paul Ince and Alan Stubbs.

Adams will be up against Mark Hateley, who completed the match against Villa bloodstained and with a broken nose. Not that the old warhorse was diminished, saying: "There's no way we'll go down."

Tottenham, who squandered a two-goal lead in their disappointing home draw against Bolton Wanderers, will have full-back Dean Austin available after a three-match ban for their trip to Southampton.

Matthew Le Tissier (calf), plus flu victims Francis Benali and Barry Venison all missed the Saints' 2-2 draw at Sheffield Wednesday and manager Dave Merrington will wait for fitness reports before finalising his team.

Middlesbrough, lying fifth, will make a late decision on Nicky Barmby for their visit to Everton. The former Spurs forward missed Saturday's 4-2 win over West Ham with an Achilles tendon injury. Paul Rideout is expected to spearhead the Everton attack after scoring on his return as a substitute in the 2-1 defeat at Coventry.

West Ham must tighten up at the back against Coventry today. Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, admitted: "Without Alvin Martin we have problems. It is like the blind leading the blind. I need to strengthen my defence as quickly as possible."

Wimbledon, without a win in 14 Premiership games, will be almost back to full strength at Chelsea, who are awaiting a fitness test on Dennis Wise. The Dons goalkeeper, Paul Heald, suffered a knee injury in the 1- 1 draw against Blackburn and Hans Segers could start a game for the first time since 7 March.

Sheffield Wednesday's Yugoslav imports Darko Kovacevic and Dejan Stefanovic could make their full debuts at Nottingham Forest, who may restore Scot Gemmill after leaving him out of the 3-1 defeat at Newcastle. That would allow Steve Stone to return to his favoured position on the right of midfield.

n The Milan striker George Weah of Liberia won the prestigious Golden Ball award yesterday for the best player in Europe in 1995. Weah received 144 points in the annual vote by European football writers, beating Jurgen Klinsmann with 108 and Finland's Jari Litmanen with 67.

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