Guy Whittingham ended Liverpool's proud unbeaten home record today and raised questions about their ability to mount a series Premiership challenge.
The 32-year-old Sheffield Wednesday striker grabbed only his fourth goal of the season after 21 minutes and that was enough to separate the two sides. Whittingham's goal may have secured the three points, but Wednesday's outstanding player was keeper Kevin Pressman, who made a string of magnificent saves.
Liverpool have now picked up only two points from their last three home games and left the field to a chorus of boos.
Wednesday manager David Pleat decided to leave Regi Blinker on the bench after his worldwide ban had been lifted by FIFA yesterday.
Pleat had promised that they would not shut up shop and play a defensive game. And his team were as good as his word, certainly in the early stages of the game when they clearly rattled Liverpool.
Andy Booth could have put Wednesday ahead as early as the second minute when Patrik Berger carelessly lost possession to Dejan Stevanovic. He delivered a well directed cross into the path of Booth, but somehow the former Huddersfield striker sent a header over the top when it seemed easier to score.
Mark Pembridge then knocked the ball wide of the post after Ian Nolan's cross had split the Liverpool defence. Wednesday took the lead after 21 minutes when Jason McAteer gave the ball away to Benito Carbone. The Italian cleverly back-heeled the ball into the path of Mark Pembridge. His shot was struck firmly enough, but seemed to be going wide, only for Guy Whittingham to stick his foot out and divert the ball into the net.
Liverpool hit back and were inches away from grabbing the equaliser eight minutes before the break. Keeper Pressman's clearance only reached McAteer 25 yards out on the right and he quickly lobbed the ball back towards an empty net. But the ball drifted onto the post and Pressman recovered to push the rebound from Robbie Fowler superbly over the top.
Pressman made another marvellous save less than a minute later when he pushed away a 25-yard thunderbolt by Berger.
Pembridge, such a tireless worker for Wednesday, almost put the Yorkshire club further ahead a minute after the break with a 20-yard effort that flashed past the post. Then Carbone was allowed a free header from Ian Nolan's cross only to direct it into the arms of keeper David James. Liverpool breathed a sigh of relief after 71 minutes when Booth's header from Carbone's corner beat James, only to rattle the bar. That incident sparked a frantic five-minute spell with Pressman making a marvellous point-blank save from Fowler. Then McManaman, who had otherwise been quiet, saw a header strike the woodwork with Pressman well beaten.
Blinker played out the last 11 minutes of the match and was able to savour a famous Wednesday victory at Anfield. Sheffield Wednesday manager David Pleat savoured a 1-0 victory against Liverpool at Anfield today, labelling skipper Peter Atherton as "Captain Fantastic."
Atherton was asked to do a man-marking job on winger Steve McManaman and carried out his task to the letter.
Guy Whittingham's goal in the 21st minute brought Liverpool's unbeaten home record for the season to an end and put a dent in their title hopes.
Keeper Kevin Pressman was also an inspiration as Pleat revealed his players had been stung by remarks in an article today. Pleat said: "I read in one newspaper that the unremarkable Sheffield Wednesday shouldn't give Liverpool any problems. It was the unremarkable I didn't like. My players are honest players, who do a decent job week in, week out. I thought Atherton was fantastic today and we got all our tactics right."
England winger McManaman had his quietest match in weeks, although one header hit the bar.
Wednesday stretched their unbeaten run to seven matches in the progress and Atherton said: "I had to do the same job on Georgi Kinkladze when we played Manchester City last season. It is a tough role to play. McManaman is so good on the ball and so full of confidence you have to watch him all the time."
Liverpool have now taken only two points out of a possible nine in their last three games at Anfield and the fans have become increasingly restive. Manager Roy Evans said: "There is nothing easy is this game and our first half hour performance must have given Wednesday a great lift. We had a decent spell just before the break but you could tell it was going to be one of those days."
"The lad did a good marking job on McManaman. But when that happens you need movement around him and we just didn't have that today."
Evans is concerned that his side do not start relying too heavily on McManaman. "I'd hate to think that we are nothing more than a McManaman team. When he's being watched so tightly it should open opportunities up elsewhere, but we just didn't play with our heads. I've seen him marked tight before and he's ripped teams to bits but no one should expect a free ride and we can't afford to rely on one player. Their lad did a great job on Steve and you've got to credit them for their planning, but teams are going to come here to try to stop us and it's up to us to overcome that. It's three points gone but it's a long season and we're still up there in the pack."
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