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GREATNESS is as greatness does

GREATNESS is as greatness does, it is said. And, as Robbie Fowler waited and waited then bided his time some more before delivering a perfect shot out of a crowd of defenders into the corner of the net, so he capped a masterclass which left the first strains of Vive La Revolution rumbling in the distance.

That the new era at Anfield was ushered in with a confidence-injecting victory following a slice of individual brilliance, from him of all players, offered an added sense of poignancy to what should be viewed as a resounding day of achievement for Gerard Houllier.

For this was the first tangible repayment of the enormous faith the Frenchman has placed in Fowler. If there is any justice, plenty more acts of atonement should now follow.

"I have defended him until my skin comes off," said Houllier of a player whose new-found focus and responsibility seems set to allow his talents to re-emerge from under a pile of bad publicity. And the point was made.

If that was a comforting sight for Houllier then the real satisfaction will have been the three points his side gleaned despite never looking entirely convincing against Sheffield Wednesday. It was not a great performance - but nor should anyone have necessarily anticipated it to be. Those kind of expectations will no doubt quickly follow.

It is easy to suggest this was a game Liverpool could have lost last season, a match they definitely would not have won, but that is the inescapable conclusion.

It is an instant tribute to the strength in depth Houllier has brought to his squad when the absence of Michael Owen is no longer the hammer blow it was just a few months ago.

The resources the manager has worked tirelessly to ensure are at his disposal were further underlined when influential playmaker Dietmar Hamann limped out of the action inside 25 minutes with damaged ankle ligaments. Such a body-blow would have previously had Liverpool reeling and having survived an 11th-minute let-off when Gilles De Bilde struck an upright with goalkeeper Sander Westerveld struggling to make the ground, they continued to cough and splutter.

Poise was rediscovered largely on the back of Jamie Redknapp's hunger, determination and composure. It is not hyperbole to suggest the skipper is facing the biggest season of his career; one where he will be asked to silence any lingering doubts about his right to be classed as top quality. So far, so good.

From the moment he yelled at Vladimir Smicer to join in the impromptu huddle called for a focusing of the minds immediately before kick-off, he was everything Houllier would have wanted when he named him captain. Redknapp chased and snapped like a wide-jawed Alsatian attempting to lure Liverpool out of slumbers - eager to try and create the semblence of a clear cut chance by backing it all up with an incisive range of passing.

He stood out like a sore thumb and nearly helped break the deadlock on 24 minutes. Injecting some rare pace into an attack, Redknapp exchanged passes with Titi Camara and Fowler and strode into the penalty area where his attempts to shoot were blocked and Smicer saw his follow-up drive cleared off the line by Jon Newsome.

What had been something of an exception in the first-half became more like the norm after the break as the passing and movement of pre-season crept back into the play.

Offensively, Liverpool boast a line-up as good as anything in the Premiership and slowly they began to swarm over Danny Wilson's side - though Fowler somehow contrived to head over from eight yards on 59 minutes after Pavel Srnicek had palmed a vicious 35-yard free-kick from Redknapp straight to him.

Defensively, works remains. While Jamie Carragher was exemplary alongside the impressive Sami Hyypia, the full-backs looked ill-at-ease and Westerveld also appeared as though he will need time to adjust to the differing demands of English football.

The Dutch stopper was involved in the turning point in the match, however, saving Richard Cresswell's low drive after a mistake by Vegard Heggem had left him in the clear.

Immediately, Liverpool marched upfield where Smicer found Fowler inside the penalty area. That his first touch was poor mattered little. Both Des Walker and Emerson Thome stood a yard off him, mesmerised, and with only a minimal backlift Fowler clipped a 74th minute goal past a disbelieving Srnicek.

While the finish was sublime, it owed much to the qualities of Smicer. His vision and awareness, plus his ability to thread passes through the eye of a needle look likely to be a potent weapon over the coming months. It will be interesting to see whether Houllier attempts to bring on his defensive attributes in the same way that has allowed Patrik Berger - strangely subdued on Saturday - to become the kind of all round player who can also have a major bearing on the season.

And then there is Titi Camara. Or "Allez Titi" as the red, green and yellow banner read.

His debut Premiership goal - a left foot shot from just inside the area six minutes from time after Srnicek had pushed a 25-yard piledriver from Fowler straight into his path - was reward for another eye-catching display.

Eye-catching in the sense that you never know what the Guinea striker will do. When he was presented with a shooting chance immediately after the break, it failed to tempt his left-foot into action.

Then later on, he typified his unpredictability by unleashing an exocet that was destined for the top corner until Srnicek for once managed to do something right.

The theory remains that Camara, for all his instant love affair with the supporters, will prove a better substitute in the long run; able to change the course of games in that role rather than from the start.

Of course, the optimism this win will naturally bring should be qualified to a certain degree without seeking to take too much credit away.

Firstly, Sheffield Wednesday are not that good a side and Danny Wilson further played into Liverpool's hands by leaving his best player - Benito Carbone - in cold storage until it was too late to really wrestle back a momentum that had been lost.

The little Italian tried though - blasting in a brilliant volley which Westerveld could do little about with injury time beckoning.

When the fourth official insisted three more minutes would ensue, the heart almost sank. The memory of those defensive frailties not quite yet confined to a dark and distant past.

But for starters it was as much as anyone could have expected.

As Houllier - who with every day and every decision seems more and more like the man who will lead a lasting revival - said: "I know there could have been more, but if everything was perfect I would worry about being bored in training over the coming weeks."

The season is 90 minutes old, Liverpool are three points to the good. Vive la revolution.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (4-4-2): Srnicek, Newsom , Thome, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Donnelly (Briscoe 78), Sonner, Alexandersson, Rudi; Sibon (Cresswell 59), De Bilde (Carbone 69). Subs: Pressman, Haslam.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Westerveld, Heggem, Hyypia, Carragher, Matteo; Smicer, Redknapp, Hamann (Thompson 25) (Staunton 82), Berger; Fowler, Camara (Meijer 90). Subs: Song, Nielsen.

Goals: Fowler (74), Camara (84), Carbone (90)

REFEREE: Graham Poll (Tring)

BOOKINGS: Donnelly (foul 26), Thompson (persistent fouling 57).

ATTENDANCE: 34,583

©Liverpool Daily Post & Echo 1999 | [email protected] 

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