Liverpool v Sheffield United 2-0 (League match)

Saturday, December 15 – 1990
Match: Football League, 1st Division, at Anfield, kick-off: 15:00.
Liverpool – Sheffield United 2-0 (0-0).
Attendance: 33,516.
Referee: Mr. J.W. Lloyd.
Liverpool: Bruce Grobbelaar, Glenn Hysen, David Burrows, Steve Nicol, Ronnie Whelan, Gary Gillespie, Peter Beardsley, Ray Houghton, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Steve McMahon.
Substitution: Steve McManaman for Peter Beardsley after 80 minutes.
Unused substitute: Gary Ablett.
Sheffield United: Simon Tracey, Chris Wilder, Paul Beesley, Colin Hill, Wilf Rostron, Ian Bryson, Vinnie Jones, John Gannon, Richard Lucas, Carl Bradshaw, Brian Deane.
Substitutions: Jamie Hoyland for Chris Wilder after 76 minutes and Peter Duffield for Carl Bradshaw after 79 minutes.
The goals: 1-0 Barnes (61 min.), 2-0 Rush (75 min.).

After an hour on Saturday, Sheffield United were still dreaming of the impossible. They had defied the red tide sweeping over them at Anfield and their heads could still be seen above the water. But they were eventually submerged by an irresistible force. After John Barnes had drilled the first hole in the United dyke, only the continued resilience of Simon Tracey, their goalkeeper, and Paul Beesley, the centre half, prevented the floodgates from opening.

If Dave Bassett’s team does sink back to the second division, it will not be without trace. United have equalled the achievement of Hull City, who 12 months ago went 16 games without a win from the start of a season, and as he donned another brave face Bassett admitted there was “a whole stack” of unwanted records still waiting to be collected, like the least number of first division wins (three) and the fewest points (17).

The Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, was typically unmagnanimous. He does not like discussing his opponents, he said, and he did not. Bassett, rightly, praised United’s effort and enthusiasm. You sense he knows those qualities will not be enough to save them, even if they frustrated the champions for a long period.

Although Barnes, with a succession of searching crosses from the left, provided plenty of ammunition, Liverpool fired blanks throughout the first half. The one genuine chance they created from a wealth of possession was headed by Rush straight at Tracey, whose immaculate handling behind a composed, if overworked, defence kept United in with a chance.

As it was, only the thickness of Grobbelaar’s crossbar prevented the unthinkable in the 27th minute when Bryson, robbing McMahon and exchanging passes with Deane, arrowed a shot on to the Liverpool woodwork.

If the supporters on the Kop had needed binoculars to feel close to the action in the first half, most of the second was played under their noses. You could understand why 34 points separated the teams before the kick off.

Tracey’s athletic save from Rush’s header delayed, but could not prevent, the inevitable. Liverpool’s opening goal was reward for Rush’s willingness to chase lost causes. While his colleagues drew breath in readiness for another attack, he ran 30 yards to force a mistake out of Rostron: McMahon’s diagonal pass, Beardsley’s nimble footwork and Barnes’s low drive past Tracey’s left hand did the rest. When, 14 minutes later, Tracey made his one mistake of the match, it was all over. Burrows, off balance near the corner flag, launched a hopeful, high punt towards the near post, Tracey distracted by Rush let the ball bounce, and when Houghton headed back across goal, Rush was on hand, virtually on the goalline, to head home.
(The Times, 17-12-1990)

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