Lifeless Liverpool wave the white flag

Lifeless Liverpool waved the white flag of championship surrender as Manchester United were gifted the title with two games to spare.
Roy Evans had demanded his side go out in a blaze of glory by putting some pressure on Alex Ferguson's men.

Instead they virtually threw the towel in until it was far too late with an abject display which could hardly have been worse.

Only David James, the butt of so much cruel humour, and teenage substitute Michael Owen could emerge with any credit from a performance that mocked Anfield's rich traditions before time started running out.

And even the much-taunted James had to take a little responsibility for the Jason Euell opener that spelled the beginning of the end.
James started to come out when Alan Kimble floated over a 43rd-minute free-kick. But he then stopped and with his defenders doing passable statue impersonations was helpless as Euell's downward header bounced between his legs and into the net.

Patrik Berger, a Czech firing blanks, missed a great chance to level in injury time but Liverpool's title world ended with a a whimper rather than a bang as they subsided after the break. The killer blow came 11 minutes after the restart, when Dean Holdsworth stole in to thump home a header from Neal Ardley's right-wing cross.

That was the cue for Evans to send on young Owen for Berger, the England youth ace breathing new life into the Reds' championship corpse by steering home from Stig Bjornebye's pass 16 minutes from time.

It began their best spell of the night, with Wimbledon keeper Neil Sullivan finally forced to earn his corn. But on a night when they needed to break that depressing run of only one win in 12 league meetings with the Dons, Evans' side could not even get back on terms and it meant championship celebrations again at Old Trafford.

The absence of the suspended Robbie Fowler put the onus on Stan Collymore and Berger to take up where they had left off against Spurs, but from the outset their minds seemed to be elsewhere. Selhurst Park's bumpy pitch did not help, yet Liverpool plainly lacked conviction, a display hinting they had already given up the championship ghost.

Not that Wimbledon were much better, and indeed the opening half-hour saw a litany of misplaced passes, enlivened only by a booking for Vinnie Jones, perhaps playing his penultimate match for the home side, for handball.

It was Wimbledon who were the first to mount a real attack, Holdsworth's header clawed away by James. Collymore then broke into a partial sweat, a sweet turn and shot forcing Neil Sullivan into action, before Euell struck two minutes from the break.

Despite that, Evans' men should have levelled before the interval, Berger somehow contriving to miss the target altogether then Jason McAteer's cross found him unmarked eight yards out. It should have been the spark for a renewed effort, yet they were lucky to still be in the contest within three minutes of the restart as the Dons laid siege.

Holdsworth blasted over when well-placed, before Jones knocked Kimble's deep centre back across goal for Robbie Earle to meet with the fiercest of volleys. But James threw himself into the path to block, following that up by diving to his right to gather when Marcus Gayle got his head to Kimble's resulting corner.

Even James, however, could do nothing when Holdsworth, finding a horrendous amount of space between Neil Ruddock and Mark Wright, hit the target from Neal Ardley's excellent right-wing cross. That, effectively, was that, another championship campaign coming to an inglorious end, not the slightest shred of self-belief about the Liverpool display.

Evans sought to introduce some of the passion his men needed when young Owen, already labelled `The New Robbie Fowler' came on for a debut in place of the woeful Berger. It was a debut marked in the grand manner, the 18-year-old racing onto Bjornebye's pass to glide home in a manner reminiscent of the Toxteth hitman.

Suddenly, but far too late, Liverpool were interested; McManaman setting up McAteer for a shot blocked by Sullivan, and then Owen's shot striking McManaman but drifting inches wide of the far post.

Evans, now urging his men forward as the Dons rocked, will have been left wondering why it had taken so long for them to get going.
James kept it going with a great stop to deny Euell as they were hit on the break, and in the last minute Owen might have made an even bigger impact as he forced a diving save from Sullivan.

But Liverpool, for all their bowed heads at the end, only had themselves to blame. They did not deserve to take it any further than this.

Copyright - Press Association

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