Liverpool's faith in Wright rewarded

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The Independent Online

Liverpool 2 Chelsea 0

The man outside Anfield with the placard telling us to repent our sins would probably appreciate being called a member of the God squad, if only for the rhyme. "Be like Peacock," he called to anyone who would listen. "Get out of the mire and into the choir.''

He was referring to Gavin Peacock, Chelsea's Christian midfield player, but he might just as easily have been describing Liverpool. They are a team with a darkish past hoping for a higher calling, after all.

This match could help get them there, too. Against skilled opponents, cerebrally led by the excellent Dennis Wise, they were dragged into a swamp of tactics before emerging clutching a win. Judged against what happened at Loftus Road, the chances of taking their first title since 1990 looked even better.

Suddenly two points behind the Uniteds of Manchester and Newcastle, the pessimism that had come in buckets after their midweek draw with Wimbledon had disappeared. "Every game is going to be the same," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, said. "Every time you drop points, people will say we're out of it. We're in the position where we can lose least of all because we're the chasers out of the three. That's not easy, there are going to be ups and downs.''

Mark Wright could say "Amen" to that. A pounds 2.2m buy from Derby five years ago, he could personify the transition the club has undergone since Evans took over from Graeme Souness in January 1994. A semi-permanent fixture in the treatment room he was an expensive luxury in a reserve side. Now he is looking an international centre-back again.

It was Wright who dragged Liverpool out of the morass on Saturday. Already a commanding figure at the back, he strode forward for a dead-ball kick after 52 minutes and was still there moments later when John Barnes crossed from the left. With a stately leap he thumped the ball past Kevin Hitchcock.

"To be fair, he lost us a goal against Wimbledon on Wednesday," Evans said of his born-again defender, "but it was nice to see how he took it. I like it when people are self-critical. Today he was excellent." Then throwing in a bit of mock humour, he added: "It's about time he scored with a header.''

With that, the game's character changed from one of absorbing parity to partial Liverpool superiority. Even then John Scales had to clear off the line from John Spencer and David James make an excellent save from Dan Petrescu in a rousing finale.

Chelsea were good but, without the defence-splitting touches of the flu- ridden Ruud Gullit, they could not produce the sort of precision with which Liverpool sealed the result. Stan Collymore passed to sweetly to the right where Jason McAteer produced the sort of cross strikers drool over. In a blur of red, Robbie Fowler arrived at the near post and headed to the far for his 30th goal of the season.

"It was a day when we had to get the majority of the possession," Evans said, "because if you give Chelsea too much of the ball they are capable of doing what we did to them. I was pleased with the patience side of it.

"Everyone expects us to railroad people out of the ground, but you can't do it. There are too many good teams around. We ask for patience, sometimes you have to keep the ball and wait for things to develop rather than force them.''

Wait for the cross, in other words. The man with the placard would understand that.

Goals: Wright (52) 1-0; Fowler (61) 2-0.

Liverpool (5-3-2): James; McAteer, Wright, Scales, Harkness, Jones; McManaman, Thomas, Barnes; Collymore, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Rush, Redknapp, Warner (gk).

Chelsea (5-4-1): Hitchcock; Petrescu, Duberry, Lee, Clarke, Phelan; Spencer, Wise, Burley, Peacock; Hughes (Furlong, 70). Substitutes not used: Myers, Spackman.

Bookings: Liverpool Collymore. Chelsea: Petrescu, Burley, Hughes.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Man of the match: Wise.

Attendance: 40,820.