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Barnes sets tone as vibrant Liverpool leave Wimbledon trailing

IAN RUSH, aged 33 but with a teenager's hunger, continues to drive Liverpool towards Wembley. In equalling Denis Law's post-War FA Cup record of 41 goals, Rush helped Liverpool into a home quarter-final with either Tottenham Hotspur or Southampton, who meet tonight.

After John Barnes had shown the way with a ninth-minute opener, Rush took over with an impressive display crowned by a typically clinical 37th-minute strike to move alongside Law, another effortless penalty-box warrior. It was Liverpool's 12th unbeaten cup game of the season, and the League Cup semi-finalists were rarely troubled by a subdued Wimbledon side.

Much of Liverpool's creativity this season has emanated from the sinewy runs and quick-fire wall-passing of Steve McManaman, who Warren Barton was deployed to track and stifle. Joe Kinnear's understandable ploy failed.

McManaman kept eluding Barton, whose own considerable threat was negated by being stationed in areas where his right foot was less effective. The left flank is no place for an England right-back.

Wimbledon are a lesser force with Barton distracted

Wimbledon are a lesser force with Barton distracted, a situation which natually encouraged Liverpool to venture forward. Within minutes Roy Evans's visitors should have taken the lead, when Jamie Redknapp's cross was headed over from a promising position by John Scales.

Wimbledon failed to learn from this early sign of Liverpool's aerial prowess. After nine minutes, Liverpool went ahead with a goal of stunning simplicity. A foul by Alan Kimble on Redknapp provided the perfect opportunity. Redknapp, with admirable accuracy, curled over the right-wing free-kick which Barnes headed powerfully past Hans Segers.

Wimbledon's cutting edge appeared to be blunted when Efan Ekoku, their leading scorer, limped off after 20 minutes, but his replacement, Dean Holdsworth, soon proved a lively deputy.

Immediately seizing on a poor Redknapp pass, Holdsworth ran confidently at Liverpool's defence, his increasingly threatening break curtailed only by Neil Ruddock's finely-judged piece of pickpocketing.

Far from stalling, the Liverpool bandwagon was simply pausing and picked up impressive steam in the 37th minute. A meandering move through the middle and towards the right culminated with McManaman and Barnes linking to release Rush. With a timing and placement born of years at the highest level, Rush, the master poacher, slid in for his 14th goal of the season.

Early in the second half, Fowler and McManaman squandered chances as Wimbledon remained on the back foot. Then McManaman dribbled in from the right and skipped along the byline before cutting the ball back to Fowler, who lost concentration and miscued embarrassingly.

Fowler, out of sorts last night, possesses immense promise. Importantly, he is apprenticed to Rush, whose leadership of the line, ability to hold up play, turn defenders and finish with ruthless efficiency remains a phenomenal example. Fowler could not be at a better finishing school.

Copyright - The Daily Telegraph

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