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Souness' Anfield agony

Souness' Anfield agony
by Ken Gaunt of "Press Association"

Graeme Souness's return to Anfield today ended in agony with Steve McManaman scoring a dramatic late winner for Liverpool. The Southampton manager was making his first return to the ground after quitting as Anfield boss in January 1994 following a shock FA Cup defeat by Bristol City after nearly three years in charge.

It looked as though Southampton had scraped a point after former Liverpool reserve Jim Magilton had cancelled out the opening goal by Stan Collymore. But with just two minutes remaining a dreadful error by substitute Neil Heaney gave Liverpool an unexpected winner. Heaney's attempted pass back to keeper Dave Beasant was woefully short and McManaman wasted no time in latching to the loose ball. The England winger danced past Beasant to tuck the ball into the corner. The Kop sighed with relief but this was another edgy performance by the home side despite having the majority of possession.

Collymore gave them the lead with his first goal of the season six minutes before the break. Jason McAteer, celebrating his first anniversary at Anfield, started the move by picking out John Barnes. The Liverpool skipper squared the ball across the face of the penalty area and Collymore swept it home despite appearing to lose his footing in the process.

Liverpool had carved out the early chances with Robbie Fowler seeing a firmly struck 25 yard shot rattle the bar after great work by Barnes. Souness, obviously upset at the lack of movement from his side in the first half, brought on Gordon Watson for the ineffective Matt Le Tissier at the start of the second half. Liverpool continued to dictate the pace but the visitors drew level after 57 minutes with their first real attack of the game.

Watson linked up with Robbie Slater and he slipped the ball through to Magilton. He swept the ball beyond keeper David James -- an unforgettable moment for a player who left Liverpool at 21 because of a lack of first team opportunities. Southampton were forced to back pedal after the equaliser and Beasant did superbly well to turn away a thundering 30-yard shot from Michael Thomas after Stig Bjornebye had set up the chance.

Southampton continued to look dangerous in rare breakaways and Liverpool manager Roy Evans decided to change things around with 14 minutes to go. He brought on £3.25 million signing Patrik Berger for his debut with 14 minutes to go. Jamie Redknapp also made his first appearance of the season, following an ankle injury, at the same time.

The double move paid off with Liverpool looking far more positive and Beasant thwarted Berger by making a fine save from his fierce header. It appeared that Southampton would hold out but then came that moment of madness by Heaney leaving Liverpool celebrating and Souness distraught.

Graeme Souness passed on his thanks to the Liverpool supporters after he was given a warm reception on his return to Merseyside today. But there was no happy ending for the former Anfield manager as his Southampton side went down 2-1 after a blunder by Neil Heaney with just two minutes to go.

Souness, who left Liverpool in 1994 after three turbulent years in charge, said: "I was very pleased with the welcome and I will always have affection for this club. I was feeling very pleased until that goal it was a kick in the teeth. I feel sorry for the lad. He has chosen this stage and this day of all days to do that but he will learn from the experience."

There seemed little danger when Heaney picked up the ball but his attempted back pass to keeper Dave Beasant was woefully short. Steve McManaman latched on to it in a flash, skipped past keeper Beasant and slotted the ball home much to the Kop's relief.
It was a bitter pill for Souness to swallow after Jim Magilton had brought Saints level in the 57th minute, cancelling out the opening goal from Stan Collymore six minutes before the break.

Souness replaced Matt Le Tissier at half-time with Gordon Watson but stressed that the England player had been withdrawn because of a hamstring injury and not because of his performance. Souness said: "We contained Liverpool in the second half and it needed an individual mistake to give them the game. You always expect to be under the cosh when you come to Anfield but I always thought we had a chance."

Liverpool manager Roy Evans said: "When you look at the number of chances we created I don't think Southampton should complain too much. Of course there was relief at the end but it should never have gone that far. We need to be more consistent and we stopped using our heads in the second half. I get on well with Graeme and he'll be disappointed. I had a word with him both before and after the game and I know he is disappointed at going so close."

Souness later revealed that defender Jason Dodd, who was stretchered off after only 11 minutes, had suffered a chipped ankle and he could be sidelined for a few weeks.

Copyright - Press Association

Press' Liverpool man of the match awards
The Sunday Mirror : Robbie Fowler (8/10).
The Sunday Express : Steve McManaman.
The Daily Mirror : Dominic Matteo (9/10).
The Independent : Dominic Matteo.
The Liverpool Echo : Dominic Matteo (9/10).
90 Minutes : Dominic Matteo (9/10).


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