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No luck involved, says cheeky Macca

Steve McManaman scored the craziest goal of the season to clinch the victory which enabled Liverpool to climb back alongside Arsenal at the top of the Premiership tree and add another icy blast to Tottenham's mid-winter of discontent at White Hart Lane.

Sad Spurs, still rocking with the trauma of last week's 6-1 Coca-Cola Cup humbling at Bolton, were already a goal down to Michael Thomas' splendidly constructed strike on the stroke of half-time.

Then, three minutes into the second period, with Spurs' top-scorer Chris Armstrong left back in the dressing room to join another growing list of injury casualties, McManaman registered the fluke goal which had the Tottenham cockrell croaking helplessly with a death rattle reminiscent of a stuffed turkey at Christmas. The England midfielder held off a challenge from Steve Carr 25 yards out and hit a hopeful shot which bounced outrageously off a divot in front of diving goalkeeper Ian Walker and skipped tauntingly over his head to land with an apologetic plop over the line.

Spurs knew then for certain that there was no way back into a match which they had hoped to use as a platform to prove their spirit and commitment was still in tact despite a volley of criticism from all quarters -- including their own chairman. And, after a gallant fightback had fluttered out to leave dejected home fans trouping home in their hundreds long before the final whistle, Spurs had to reflect on the fact that Liverpool could have gone on to inflict an even more embarrassing tally and even reach the six goals needed to make them outright leaders.

McManaman, comfortably the man of the match once Liverpool found their confidence flowing in the second half, grazed the bar with an almost lazy shot from the right after leaving Sol Campbell and Justin Edinburgh for dead. Then, five minutes from the end, Patrik Berger burst clean through only to be confronted by Walker's saving, outstretched leg, before Robbie Fowler, needing just two more goals to complete a Liverpool century, rolled his shot across an empty goalmouth with Spurs spreadeagled.

At the start Tottenham had looked capable of closing down Liverpool's free running and flair with a dedicated commitment born of desperation and a willingness to choke back the barbs of their critics. Teddy Sheringham went close with a shot on the turn after former Tottenham defender Neil Ruddock's ill-judged clearance in the 39th minute and flick-ons by Campbell and Colin Calderwood from Danish midfielder Allan Nielsen's monster throw-ins perhaps deserved better reward.

But Nielsen's prodigious deliveries from the touchline proved in the end to be Tottenham's main weapon, even though Campbell had a goal disallowed for a foul on keeper David James and Sheringham deserved better with a header and a free-kick blast which the keeper kept out at the foot of the post. Liverpool had done little in the first half to suggest that the victory which they finally achieved with consummate ease. Campbell locked up the frustrated Fowler with just as much security as Ruddock exerted at the other end against Armstrong and Sheringham. Czech star Berger looked Liverpool's liveliest hope and he stretched Walker with a cunning free-kick and also sent another promising chance off target.

But, just when the first half seemed destined to end goalless, former Arsenal midfielder Thomas struck a savage blow against the side he once supported from the terraces as a schoolboy. He started the move which flowed through McManaman, Jason McAteer and Fowler before finally returning the ball to John Barnes and running on for a lancing through pass which he despatched past the helpless Walker from 15 yards.

It was all downhill for Spurs after that. Sinton joined Armstrong in the dressing room 10 minutes into the second half after nursing a damaged eye through much of the first.

Youngster Rory Allen, a substitute after the break, had neither the strength nor know-how to properly support Sheringham but the England man twice conjured up individual efforts to keep Spurs in with a chance despite McManaman's crazy strike.

"The power and the swerve deceived Ian Walker," quipped McManaman, tongue firmly in cheek. "I added a little bit of bounce at the end. I practice them regularly in training."

McManaman also saw an easier shot on goal go wide, a cheeky lob hit the bar and a shot from the half-way line narrowly go over the bar as Liverpool ended Tottenham resistance in style to go level on points with Arsenal at the top of the division. "I missed a decent chance near the end and I think that (the goal) might be a little bit of justice in the end for not scoring the other goals," added McManaman. "We didn't really take much notice of their defeat in midweek. We knew they were going to come at us and give us everything but we were up for it."

McManaman's goal was typical of Spurs' luck at present and Liverpool midfielder John Barnes was relieved to see his side display all the determination that he hopes will keep them in the title race. "You can't always pass the ball around. But you've still got to battle and we got a result. We had two home draws and we didn't play particularly well but we were still only one point off the top. It's important that we don't get too far away from whoever is on top. We talk about Newcastle and (Manchester) United, and Arsenal are up there too. We're just concentrating on trying to keep as close to the top come the end of May. The pleasing thing is that when teams don't make us play we can battle. Last year we were losing games like this where we had to battle."

Liverpool boss Roy Evans saw his side eventually let their class count as they went level with Arsenal at the top of the table but admitted: "It's all thanks to our portable divot."

League Position after this match : 2nd (31 points after 15 games).

Copyright - Press Association

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