A snore draw

Mark Hughes and Gary Ablett were sent off as Manchester United and Liverpool served up a massive turn-off as live soccer returned to the nation's television screens.

Hughes, nicknamed "Sparky" by Old Trafford team mates, short-circuited in the 74th minute of a dismal affair when he aimed a headbutt at Liverpool's David Burrows as the pair tangled on the Liverpool byline.

Seven minutes earlier Ablett had also been shown the red card by Birmingham referee Mike Reed after a body check on flying Soviet winger Andrei Kanchelskis. The Liverpool defender had already been booked as early as the fifth minute for a similar clattering challenge, this time on Clayton Blackmore.

The dismissals will probably remain the only incidents remembered from an instantly forgettable encounter between two of England's top clubs and fiercest rivals.

Certainly those armchair fans tuning in to examine United's championship credentials after a 10-match unbeaten start to the new season and those interested to see what has gone wrong at Liverpool will have been left none the wiser.

Liverpool failed to fire a single shot on target throughout a frantic 90 minutes while United were not much better. Admittedly Liverpool goalkeeper Mike Hooper, preferred to regular Bruce Grobbelaar on Grobbelaar's 34th birthday, was forced to show why Anfield manager Graeme Souness preferred him. His best save came in the 34th minute when he produced an acrobatic one handed save to keep out a goalbound shot from United captain Bryan Robson, later named as man of the match to boost his hopes of an England recall.

Hooper also palmed away a dangerous 64th minute cross from Ryan Giggs and blocked an effort from Kanchelskis as United tried to break through Liverpool's stubborn defence and continue their fine record against their near neighbours having lost just once in the nine previous Old Trafford meetings.

But the match exploded into action of the wrong sort with 23 minutes to go when Ablett was banished from the action.

Hughes followed shortly afterwards as the match threatened to boil over through frustration and lack of discipline.

Watching England manager Graham Taylor, sitting alongside his Scotland counterpart Andy Roxburgh, will have gleaned little worthwhile information from this match.

And those dismissals apart the match was more an advert for the traditional Sunday afternoon armchair snooze than a glowing example of the best English soccer can serve up.

Graeme Souness left Old Trafford beaming despite Ablett being sent off.

Ablett's dismissal did not take the gloss off Liverpool's performance for Souness. He said: "We worked very hard and I am delighted to get a point. People didn't give us much of a chance but I'm happy the way things went. We had a makeshift team out. Our goalkeeper didn't know he was playing until just an hour before the kick off and we had a 19-year- old making his debut after just two days at the club."

United manager Alex Ferguson was less pleased saying: "We should have won. We were the better team in the second half but we got too caught up in the passion of the game. If we had put our foot on the ball I think we would have murdered them but it was one of those 100 mile an hour games."

About the Hughes sending-off he added: "Television shows that he did not connect with him but it was silly to show intent."

Souness' version of the Ablett red card was: "The referee decided he committed a second bookable offence so he had to go. I thought the first booking was a wee bit harsh and you're always on tenterhooks after that."

But Souness preferred to concentrate on the positive outcomes from the match - the debut of 19-year-old 300,000 pound signing Jones, formerly with fourth division Crewe Alexandra, and Hooper's display as goalkeeper.

Souness said: "Rob has only been at the club two days before playing a game like this so his performance was a bonus. The right side of defence has been a problem for us but it looks as if this boy is going to be some player."

And he explained his decision to axe Grobbelaar, saying: "Hooper's form has been so good I thought he deserved a chance, especially as I have been disappointed in Bruce's form, and Mike did exceptionally well for us."

Copyright - British Soccer Week

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