Ipswich slip away with a whimper

LIVERPOOL clinched second place in the Premiership and consigned Ipswich to the First Division of the Nationwide League with some spectacular finishing at Anfield.

John Arne Riise scored twice, Michael Owen, Vladimir Smicer and Nicolas Anelka once each as Liverpool strode out of Manchester United's reach and made it impossible for Ipswich to record the victory they needed to have any chance of avoiding relegation.

Ipswich went down with some honour, though. They may have conceded 11 goals to Liverpool this season, but this defeat was not as one-sided as the one at Portman Road three months ago. Twice in each half they might easily have scored but were betrayed by the lack of firepower and shoddy defending that have been largely responsible for their sharp decline from promising Premiership newcomers to one of the three relegated clubs.

The only jarring note for Liverpool, and England, was what looked like a recurrence of Steven Gerrard's persistent groin injury. With the England squad assembling today prior to their week of rest and relaxation in Dubai en route to the World Cup finals, the midfielder lasted only 33 minutes. Smicer, who took over from him, became one of the candidates for man of the match.

In contrast to their curiously unadventurous approach to the home game against Manchester United two weeks previously, Ipswich began with two strikers, Marcus and Darren Bent. The latter replaced Finidi George, one of the many foreign signings who have not served the Suffolk club well this season.

Liverpool made just one change from the midweek side that had beaten Blackburn here in a 4-3 thriller, Abel Xavier returning at right-back. It meant that Anelka, whose proposed £12 million transfer to Liverpool from Paris St Germain is proving predictably tortuous, had to be satisfied with a place among the substitutes.

Ipswich had won only one of their previous 12 games, while Liverpool had been victorious in all but two of their previous 14. That run included Liverpool's 6-0 hammering of Ipswich at Portman Road in February, a defeat Ipswich admit shattered their confidence.

The difference in form was hardly noticeable as Ipswich took the initiative from the kick-off and forced Liverpool to defend more than they would have wanted. Then, in the 13th minute, the home side struck with incisiveness. Xavier played the ball into Owen's feet, his clever little flick bemused the Ipswich defence and Riise ran clear to stab a left-footed shot past Andy Marshall.

For all of Liverpool's growing superiority, Ipswich should have equalised six minutes later. When Jamie Clapham, playing on the right of a five-man midfield specifically to man-mark Riise, turned back on to his stronger left foot to cross the ball, he picked out Darren Bent perfectly. The youngster, only six yards from goal, seemed certain to score, but his downward header was not powerful enough to beat Jerzy Dudek's dive.

Ipswich's punishment was to concede again in the 35th minute. It was created by Smicer soon after coming on as substitute for Gerrard. Having made a 30-yard dash across the field diagonally from the right, the Smicer was brought down by John McGreal. He had made enough of an opening for Riise to thrash another left-footer past Marshall.

Still Ipswich came back, Martijn Reuser hammering a shot against a post after cutting back inside Xavier. Just to underline the fact that nothing was going right for Ipswich, injury forced them to replace the impressive McGreal with Fabian Wilnis in defence after 39 minutes.

It took only 45 seconds of the second half to make Ipswich's task hopeless. When Titus Bramble tried to end a Liverpool attack by steering the ball back to Marshall, the young defender did not put enough power into his header. Not enough, certainly, to stop the alert, prowling Owen from nipping in between the two Ipswich players and lifting the ball cheekily over the goalkeeper and into the net.

The roof really fell in on Ipswich 10 minutes later. Boring in from the right, the lively, determined Smicer wriggled past Hermann Hreidarsson before prodding Liverpool's fourth goal beyond poor Marshall. Still Ipswich refused to give up the ghost. Smicer had to clear a Marcus Bent header off the line at a corner and Marcus Stewart, on as substitute for Darren Bent, failed to beat Dudek after going clean through.

Anelka, on for Xavier five minutes from the end, showed Stewart how it should be done when Owen's pass left him with only Marshall to beat.

Copyright - The Telegraph

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