Liverpool survive an off-day

Liverpool 0 Spartak Vladikavkaz 0 (Liverpool win 2-1 on agg)
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The Independent Online
There were no nasty accidents at Anfield, where Liverpool, having done the hard work in the first leg, found one of their less distinguished European performances enough to see them safely into the second round of the Uefa Cup.

A congested match yielded few clear opportunities, so while Liverpool were well below the heights they have reached at times in the Premiership, their 2-1 lead from Vladikavkaz was rarely under threat either.

"The fans have got to learn with us that sometimes this is a difficult competition," Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, said.

Those fans had shown their frustration by chanting for the introduction of Ian Rush during the second half. That they finally got their way at the expense of Robbie Fowler was another element in the night's learning process, showing the young striker that football is always a fickle mistress.

On Saturday, Fowler hit the net four times and could have scored eight. Last night, playing up front on his own in the absence of the ill Stan Collymore, he found that the game still frustrates as often as it elevates. Although he contributed some neat early touches, his own sights of goal were infrequent and not particularly well used.

It was symptomatic of the way Liverpool ran short of attacking impetus that Fowler's very first piece of work, a clever flick into Steve McManaman's path, produced their best chance as early as the second minute.

That finished in the side-netting and Liverpool never went as close again, although McManaman promised much with his incisive running and Neil Ruddock hooked the ball across the face of goal in the final stages.

Vladikavkaz showed more quality than in the first leg, especially after the introduction of two substitutes and a switch to a more attacking formation at half-time.

A fierce header from their captain, Inal Djioev, and a shot past the post from Bakhva Tedeen were their closest approach to a goal that would have thrown the tie wide open.

As for Liverpool, their fans got what they wanted when Rush came on for the last 13 minutes. Even he could not ignite the evening, but, as he knows better than most, it is the result rather than its manner that matters in Europe.

Liverpool (3-5-1-1): James; Wright, Ruddock, Babb; Jones, Redknapp, Barnes, Thomas, Harkness; McManaman; Fowler (Rush, 77)

Spartak Vladikavkaz (3-5-2): Khapov; Kornienko (Timofeev, h/t), Tetradze, Shelia; Pageav, Djioev, Kasimov, Yanovski, Tedeen; Kanishev (Derkash, h/t), Suliemanov.

Referee: J Ulrich (Czech Republic).