Saturday, November 22 – 1997
Match: Premier League, at Anfield, kick-off: 15:00.
Liverpool – Barnsley 0-1 (0-1).
Referee: Mr. Jeff Winter (Middlesbrough); assistant referees: Messrs. N. Hancox and R.J. Olivier.
Liverpool: David James, Bjørn Tore Kvarme, Sting Inge Bjørnebye, Dominic Matteo, Jason McAteer, Steve McManaman, Øyvind Leonhardsen, Jamie Redknapp, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Patrik Berger, Michael Owen.
Substitutions: Danny Murphy for Stig Inge Bjørnebye after 65 min.
Subs not used: Jørgen Nielsen, Steve Harkness, Neil Ruddock, Jamie Carragher.
Barnsley: Lars Leese, Nicky Eaden, Darren Barnard, Peter Markstedt, Adie Moses, Arjan de Zeeuw, Eric Tinkler, Neil Redfearn, Ashley Ward, Andy Liddell, Martin Bullock.
Substitutions: Matty Appleby for Liddell after 68 min.; John Hendrie for Ward after 86 min.
Subs not used: David Watson, Jovo Bosancic, Georgi Hristov.
The goal: 0-1 Ward (35 min.).
There are two cures for a goalkeeper with backache.
One is intensive physiotherapy, the other is to have him replaced. Wise Danny Wilson did the latter on Saturday and it proved to be a masterstroke, albeit it an overdue one. Poor Dave Watson had bent down to pick the ball out of his net 16 times on his three previous trips from Oakwell, and with Liverpool in rampant form, Anfield might just have finished him off.
So in stepped Lars Leese into Barnsley’s goal; a giant of a German who, after some dodgy early moments with his feet, used the rest of his massive body to help cause the Premiership upset of the season. Ashley Ward’s scrappy first-half goal was enough to give the unfancied Yorkshiremen a monstrous, deserved victory which will make them believe that survival is distinctly possible. I hope that is so.
Words like ‘humiliated’ and ‘humbled’ may not be too strong to describe Liverpool’s feeling after a game which, let’s face it, they were expected to win at a canter. As others have. Indeed, the match programme mentioned that “three goals today will give Liverpool their 4000th League goal at Anfield.” Too cocky?
Despite the indefatigable Michael Owen, who was seen attacking, defending and venturing into midfield, it was only when substitute Danny Murphy appeared that the Reds really looked like salvaging something – even if it were only pride.
This was a poor performance by – and a dreadful result for – Roy Evans’ men, who must win at least one of their forthcoming games against Arsenal and Manchester United to remind us of their title ambitions. Not impossible, but not easy, either.
The pressure is on again, I’m afraid.
The supporters were certainly entitled to voice their considerable displeasure. They had paid to see a romp – at worst a slender victory – but instead they suffered embarrassment. That said, targetting Jamie Redknapp for abuse, as one fan did at the end, was unfair. For there were others more deserving of criticism.
Yes, the Reds missed Robbie Fowler and, yes, they missed Paul Ince. But they also missed chances, and Barnsley took theirs. Look at Liverpool’s results against the Premiership’s bottom three: defeat by Everton, defeat by Barnsley and a draw with Bolton. It makes you wonder if they are a good team capable of playing poorly – or a poor side who can play well.
The sight of Everton propping up the table provided some comfort for the disheartened. But while they could find joy in others’ despair, they could also wince at Manchester United’s firing five times in a much more difficult fixture, and John Barnes netting two when their own side couldn’t even muster one.
Perhaps Evans’ men weren’t aided by referee Jeff Winter and a linesman who refused to be influenced by the crowd’s fury. However, if you’re searching for reasons for this reversal, then there are much more than the above. Poor they may have been, but Liverpool created enough opportunities to have won. Against less organised and hardworking opposition, at least one probably would have been converted.
Patrik Berger tested Leese with a long-range effort before Karlheinz Riedle – who has had happier days – wasted two first-half chances. Barnsley, playing neat, purposeful football, took the lead 10 minutes before the break when Andy Liddell rounded David James to cross from the by-line. Fortunately for the home side, Berger was there to intercept. Unfortunately, he miscontrolled, and the ball rolled to the startled Ward, who poked it home.
Leese’s huge frame denied Owen just before the break, by which time the home fans’ groans had become boos. And there would be more. Owen came close with a fine run and shot early into the second half, and he then served Øyvind Leonhardsen, who forced Leese into action again.
Jason McAteer watched a left footer whistle inches wide as the Reds pressed hard for that elusive equaliser against a team which, by now, were penned into their territory. But with Leese offering security and new signing Peter Markstedt looking more like a seasoned international than a £250,000 debutant, Barnsley’s hopes were well-founded.
Riedle, fed by Stig Inge Bjørnebye and Murphy respectively, wasted good chances by shooting over and then at Leese’s legs, as panic set in on the Liverpool bench. Murphy, precise with his passing and fierce with his shooting, brought the last good save out of the German with an 84th minute blast. Manager Wilson must have been proud.
As for Liverpool, the good work since Strasbourg has been undone, and they must again re-unite themselves with their demanding, disenchanted public. Rather they than me.
(Liverpool Echo, 22-11.1997)