Ruddock atones with winner as Liverpool struggle home

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Liverpool 1 Queen's Park Rangers 0

It was scarcely business as usual at Anfield last night, and Queen's Park Rangers will justifiably feel aggrieved they did not leave with a share of the dividends, but Liverpool banked another three points and their championship stock remains high.

An eminently forgettable match was won by Neil Ruddock's fiercely driven shot on the half hour, which proved too hot for Rangers' goalkeeper, Tony Roberts. The temperature was rarely to rise again. Rangers, conducted by their 38-year-old player-manager, Ray Wilkins, maintained a steady tempo and denied Liverpool the opportunity to find their familiar beat. "Laborious" was the summary of their manager, Roy Evans.

Wilkins, who pressed himself into service because Ian Holloway was taken ill on the team coach, never did rely on running power, so this was no sweat. He simply caressed the ball and gave the rest a lesson in the simple art of passing.

Wilkins instigated most of the moves that ought to have yielded an equaliser, although he had departed to an appreciative ovation ("it's nice to massage the ego") when Trevor Sinclair's late strike was resisted on the line by Rob Jones.

Liverpool had no one capable of exerting such influence and were fortunate to escape unpunished for their early aberrations. Mark Wright's sloppy ball out was intercepted by Simon Barker and Rangers' lone striker, Kevin Gallen, skewed his shot wide.

Ruddock, too, was among the culpable in an error-strewn opening phase and luckily for the defender, Andy Impey's sense of direction failed him.

Ruddock's aerial challenge for Steve Harkness' free-kick was to cause the decisive moment of consternation in Rangers' defence. Ian Rush lent his support and Ruddock delivered the finishing blow.

Simon Osborn, Gallen and Impey might have levelled. Jones' block compounded Rangers' frustration.

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

Queen's Park Rangers (4-1-4-1): Roberts; Bardsley, Maddix, McDonald, Brevett; Wilkins (Penrice, 78); Sinclair, Barker, Osborn, Impey; Gallen. Substitutes not used: Ready, Dykstra (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

n Liverpool's striker, Stan Collymore, who missed last night's match, will be given a fitness check today before his club decide whether to release him for England duty next week. Steve McManaman, who suffered an ankle injury against Rangers, will also be examined.