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Fowler outfoxes fragile defenders

TO DESCRIBE this victory as routine would be to dimiss too lightly the captivating football offered by both sides. Still, Liverpool progressed smoothly to a Coca-Cola Cup fourth-round meeting with Arsenal, untroubled by the honourable intent of Charlton Athletic.

With Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman allowed to perform their biting double act, the Nationwide League first division side were casually supressed for all but a brief period in the opening half of this third-round replay.

Liverpool, after their puzzling hiccup at Blackburn Rovers, rediscovered their menace, as did Fowler, whose two goals suggested he is back to his clinical best.

Charlton had recorded their first away win of the season only 11 days ago and, without wishing to be too unkind, it was easy to see why in a generally one-sided, if still entertaining, first half.

By the seventeenth minute, when they found themselves two goals down, they were staring at a mauling. McManaman was in his element against such generous defending, a kid in a sweetshop. He could have scored in the opening exchanges; a little whirl of the scorcerer's wand and he was free in the penalty area, only to see a sharp shot saved well by Salmon.

The first goal exposed the incompetence of the visiting defence. Fowler was allowed unhindered passage after a mistake by Balmer, only for Salmon to again thrust out a timely arm. Relief was brief, however, Wright climbing above static markers to ram home a far-post header.

Three minutes later, it appeared as if the floodgates had opened. This time the defending bordered on the farcical as Fowler and Redknapp were allowed time enough to each mistime a bouncing ball after Bjornebye's cross and still it crept over the line, off Redknapp's thigh. As this was Redknapp's first start of a frustrating season, his delight was understandable, but the smile did not survive long, however, because, if Charlton were fragile in retreat, then Liverpool, too, showed weaknesses.

Charlton gritted their teeth, continued to pass the ball and were rewarded with a goal, and a lifeline, only three minutes later. Otto, after a bristling run down the left, delivered a teasing cross that skimmed off the thinning pate of Wright, and Newton, who had continued his right wing run, found the roof of the net with a stinging volley that he controlled beautifully.

However, there was only going to be one winner in a passing competition and, after the interval, Liverpool quickly extinguished any genuine hope the visitors might have harboured.

It took two minutes, to be precise. Fowler, who had been wide with a relatively straightforward header just before the break, teased the ball into the right corner at a sedentary pace, after a good combination between McAteer and McManaman on the right.

With such a buffer, Liverpool began varying the tempo at will and a fourth goal was inevitable. It arrived on 73 minutes, again from Fowler, his tenth of the season. It was a clean header following one of those searching Bjornebye crosses from the left.

Press' Liverpool man of the match awards
The Daily Express : Jamie Redknapp.
The Liverpool Echo : Stig-Inge Bjornebye.
90 Minutes : Jamie Redknapp (9/10).

Copyright - The Times

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