Thomas provides the right stimulus

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Liverpool 2
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The Independent Online
Tottenham, desperate to write off last week's 6-1 defeat at Bolton as just a bad day at the office, suffered further humiliation in the workplace last night at the hands of a Liverpool side which ended this match with shooting practice.

The visitors, helped by a freakish bounce which brought Steve McManaman their second goal, thus moved up level on points with the Premiership leaders, Arsenal, who stay top through superior goal difference.

It was no more than they deserved after riding out a predictably desperate effort from the home side and earning the space and time to let their superior talents tell.

In the last 13 minutes, McManaman, Berger - twice - and Fowler all might have added to the score. And a 90th-minute flourish from McManaman, who returned Ian Walker's goal-kick narrowly over the bar with a half-volley from just inside the Spurs half, provided the game with an almost contemptuous finale.

By then, however, Spurs had already suffered what their manager, Gerry Francis, described as a "killer goal".

McManaman's freakish effort three minutes into the second half, when his speculative low shot hit a bump in the turf and hopped over the diving figure of Walker, is destined for many television replays. Liverpool enjoyed similar fortune last season, when Stan Collymore's trundling effort at Blackburn took an equally weird bounce to flummox Tim Flowers.

Francis described the goal as "divine intervention''. Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, referred with a grin to their "portable divot''. But if the visitors profited from luck on that occasion, they were more than worthy of a victory which keeps them in with a realistic chance of winning the Premiership title.

Tottenham, despite the news that they have just tied up the pounds 2.7m transfer of the Norwegian international forward Steffen Iversen, subject to a medical on Thursday, still appear to be several players short of a realistic title challenge.

They were not helped last night by the injuries which deprived them of Darren Anderton and forced the substitution of Chris Armstrong and Andy Sinton. But in truth they were outclassed by a side whose opening goal, in virtually the last move of the first half, said everything about their quality.

John Barnes, taking advantage of a momentary gap in the Spurs back line, laid through a perfectly judged ball which allowed Michael Thomas to step inside his marker and drive home a low cross shot.

In a broadcast on the big screen before the match started, Andy Sinton ate official humble pie on behalf of the players over the previous Wednesday's defeat: "We owe it to the fans," he said, "we owe it to the manager, we owe it to ourselves to give a good performance tonight...''

Given the opprobrium which had descended upon the players since that match, one half expected to see Tottenham take to the field in a changed strip of sackcloth and ashes. But no, blue and white it was, and each player received a dogged cheer as his name was announced.

By the final whistle, those cheers had turned to muted boos as Tottenham suffered their third consecutive defeat. In their defence, they will point to the way they responded after falling two behind in the space of three minutes. Francis felt his team was unfortunate not to have their goal allowed when Sol Campbell, challenging for Clive Wilson's lofted free- kick, backheaded the ball over Liverpool's keeper. But the big defender was penalised for a foul on James, who was treated for a facial injury.

Had the referee, Graham Poll, looked differently upon that incident the match might have ended very differently. As it was, Liverpool ran amok.

"That's the way it's going at the moment," Francis said gloomily afterwards. He has to make his players believe their luck will change. As for Liverpool - if they can produce such displays with more consistency, they might yet justify their current position as the bookies' favourites.

Tottenham Hotspur: (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Campbell, Calderwood, Wilson; Fox, Nielsen, Howells, Sinton (Edinburgh, 65); Armstrong (Allen, h/t), Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Austin, Dozzell, Bardsen (gk).

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

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire)

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