Sunday Telegraph match report

It was probably just as well for Liverpool that Steve McManaman did not effect the ultimate rescue act after coming on as a late substitute and halving the Merseysiders' deficit. It would have made thoughts of his leaving all the more painful for the fans. As it was, he did enough in the 22 minutes he was on the pitch to remind Liverpool of what they will be missing when he departs for Real Madrid in the summer, 14 million pounds the richer over the course of a five-year contract. Doubtless the watching England coach, Glenn Hoddle, would not begrudge him it - presumably, in a previous life he was a pauper.

McManaman's willingness to run at the opposition, in much the same manner as Darren Huckerby did for Coventry, unnerved the opposition and might have borne greater fruit had his introduction come earlier. But his stamina, after just one game at this level in four months, must have been a concern for Gerard Houllier, the Liverpool coach.

His goal, a side-footed finish to a Michael Owen cross after 86 minutes, momentarily raised hopes of a Manchester United-style finish, but in truth Coventry were always more dangerous on the breakaway and were thoroughly deserving of the win given them by goals from George Boateng and Noel Whelan.

"It could have been more, but I don't want to be too greedy," said Gordon Strachan, the Coventry manager.

Houllier refused to accept that there was any hangover from the crushing FA Cup defeat to United, blaming the pitch for not being conducive to their passing game. "We have to acknowledge the fact that we made errors and if you make errors you pay," he said. "When we win, the goalkeeper is part of us, and when we lose the goalkeeper is also there - there's no point in trying to blame anybody."

It was quite clear whom he held chiefly responsible for this defeat and while David James had a poor game, it would be harsh to blame him unduly for either goal.

Highfield Road has never been one of Liverpool's happy hunting grounds - at least not for quite some time. They have now won here just once in eight visits, and in 1992 suffered their biggest League defeat in 16 years when they lost 5-1.

Set to receive not a penny for a player who, 18 months ago, they nearly sold to Barcelona for 12 million pounds, Liverpool are clearly not about to go softly, softly with McManaman, who was named as a substitute despite picking up an ankle injury in a midweek run-out with the reserves at Sunderland. Confirmation of his departure will probably have come as a relief to his Liverpool teammates, who can now, perhaps, concentrate on getting on with their footballing lives without the England midfielder.

Houllier said: "He made his decision - we have to go along with that. The last thing to do with him is to blame him because, as I've said from the start, he's never hidden the fact that he wanted to play abroad at some stage. We also have to remember the good years he spent at Liverpool."

He added that he did not think there was any chance that Liverpool would allow McManaman to leave for Real Madrid before the summer - "he's part of the team until the end," said Houllier.

The absence through suspension of Jamie Carragher gave Houllier the opportunity to give new signing Rigobert Song his debut, although he conceded it probably was not fair on the player, having only arrived in the country on Tuesday. It was a baptism of fire.

In the opening 11 minutes Coventry forced five corners and Song had to clear his lines when James once made an ill-advised sprint to the touchline in order to intercept a pass from Gary McAlliser. He failed miserably, but Huckerby's attempted chip went awry.

Gary McAllister was not far away with a free-kick from 30 yards after Vegard Heggem had been booked for impeding Huckerby on a run at goal, and still there was no sign of the Liverpool attack which had put seven past Southampton a fortnight earlier. Whelan had the ball in the net but was ruled offside and then, finally, after 31 minutes, Jamie Redknapp got his own long-range passing game working with a ball to Patrik Berger, just left of the Coventry goal, but the Czech shot wide.

After that, all Liverpool could offer was a curling shot from Owen which clipped the crossbar. It was no more than Coventry deserved when Steve Froggatt's tantalising cross veered away from a hesitant James and Boateng flung himself at it to head home on the hour.

Steve Staunton, who was fortunate not to be booked on at least three occasions when left exposed to the pace of the Coventry attack, was made vulnerable again shortly after McManaman's arrival when Trond Soltvedt sent Froggatt scampering through, but James partly redeemed himself with a fine save.

It was only a brief reprieve for the Merseysiders. Two minutes later, in the 72nd minute, Huckerby and Boateng set up Whelan, who managed to finish when at first it seemed his touch had betrayed him.

Goals : Boateng (60 mins), Whelan (71), McManaman (86).
Half-Time : 0-0.
Booked: Heggem (22), Song (52).
Attendance : 23,056.
Team (5-3-2): James, Heggem, Matteo, Staunton (Gerrard 86), Song (McManaman 68), Bjornebye, Redknapp, Berger (Riedle 77), Ince, Owen, Fowler.
Substitutes (not used): Friedel, Harkness.
Referee : M. Riley (Leeds).
League position: 6th (35 points after 23 matches).

Copyright - Sunday Telegraph

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