Wright gives a lift

Liverpool 2 Wright 53, Fowler 62 Chelsea 0 Attendance: 40,820
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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL'S Premiership title challenge is back on course. Two goals in the space of eight minutes early in the second half, including Robbie Fowler's 29th of the season, did for a Chelsea team who, in the absence of Ruud Gullit with flu, still managed to cause Anfield some anxious moments.

Both teams went into the match in need of a lift after similarly disappointing outings in midweek. Demonstrating how difficult it can be to play struggling sides at this time of the season, Liverpool had managed only a draw at home to Wimbledon, while Chelsea had been held by Manchester City.

Amid speculation that there might be shake-ups in both camps, there turned out to be only one change on either side - and they were enforced. Roy Evans was probably able to live with having to bring Steve Harkness in for Phil Babb as the left-hand man in Liverpool's central defensive trio. Gullit, though, was the last man Glenn Hoddle would have wanted to lose.

In his absence, responsibility in midfield fell largely to Dennis Wise and Gavin Peacock, while Craig Burley, brought in for Gullit, patrolled the space in front of the back three. The aim, when not in possession, seemed to be to squeeze Liverpool into a narrow strip just beyond the halfway line, and to begin with it worked well.

It was still a surprise that the first attempt on goal was by Chelsea - Wise cutting in from the left and, from 30 yards, attempting a repeat of his spectacular strike at Southampton earlier this month. This time he sliced the ball wide of the post.

With Michael Thomas and John Barnes finding few gaps to pass through and Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler well marked, Liverpool looked to Steve McManaman to start unsettling the opposition. He did so with a 16th- minute shot which Kevin Hitchcock leapt to turn round for a corner before Fowler tested him further and Collymore clipped the top of the bar.

But it was pressure Liverpool were unable to sustain, and Chelsea soon showed they could sting as well as stifle. A wonderful pass out of defence by David Lee set Terry Phelan free on the left and deserved a better cross than the overlapping full-back provided. Then, three minutes from half- time, John Spencer broke from the halfway line and looked well placed to go on and shoot. But while there was selflessness in his decision to cross to Dan Petrescu, vital momentum was lost and Mark Wright got back to clear the danger.

The end to Liverpool's growing frustration came after 53 minutes. Jason McAteer, a peripheral figure up till now, found some space on the right and only a tackle that earned Burley a booking stopped his progress. But Chelsea only half-cleared the ball following Harkness's free-kick, and when John Barnes sent it back in, Wright muscled his way into the six-yard box to head his team into a 1-0 lead.

Although that was almost cancelled out a minute later when Spencer caught Rob Jones in possession near the right touchline and had David James panicking with a lob from 40 yards, Liverpool were mostly in control from then on.

McAteer was also central to their second goal, after 61 minutes, chipping a precise cross to Fowler whose glancing header into the far corner was executed with equal care.