Barnesy is back!
John Barnes celebrated his long-awaited comeback with a hat-trick as Liverpool sent Crewe into the FA Cup buffers at Gresty Road.
The England winger showed that a 32-game absence had done nothing to dim his reflexes as he set up a fourth round trip to Bristol Rovers.
And while he was clearly unwilling to over-extend rusty muscles after achilles and calf problems, his immediate impact is good news for both Liverpool and England.
Barnes ensured that the new favourites avoided the fourth division nightmare suffered by Arsenal less than 30 miles away, and allowed Graeme Souness' side to partly erase the memory of their own stumble at Peterborough a month ago in the Rumbelows Cup.
Liverpool humiliated their opponents 9-2 in the league cup last season and the script was soon being re-read, thanks to Rob Jones, the bargain buy they picked up from Crewe in October.
He accelerated on to Ray Houghton's pass down the right in the ninth minute and pulled a low cross into the path of Steve McManaman, who drove a right-foot shot crisply inside the nearpost.
Barnes' first came in the 26th minute. Rob Edwards cleared Mark Wright's header from Houghton's corner off the line, and when Dean Saunders drove the loose ball into the middle, Barnes flicked it clearly home.
Two minutes later he produced a goal straight out of the memory bank, steering the ball over Dean Greygoose when McManaman pulled the ball back from the left.
Crewe are a wonderful example of what can be achieved on a shoestring budget when you believe in the best of principles, and their neat, confident passing set up a series of chances which Tony Naylor and Anfield reject Craig Hignett tried hard to accept.
But their two best, early in the second half, fell to substitute Colin Rose and defender Aaron Callaghan. Sadly both missed the target from tempting close-range back-post positions.
As Crewe faded, the remaining question was whether Barnes could collect his hat-trick. He accelerated on to Molby's 78th minute pass, but put just a bit too much weight to his first-touch lob over Greygoose.
In the last minute, however, Jones broke through, Dave McKearney tripped him and Barnes stepped up to the spot to drive the ball beyond Greygoose's dive and complete a fairytale return.
Barnes reacted cautiously to his successful return saying: "I've still got a long way to go. I was just pleased to play. The goals were a bonus. I was tired throughout the match. Fitness is my major problem, not my touch, and that's only going to come through playing matches. I'm not a great watcher of football, so I've been quite frustrated. But that's all behind me now."
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