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Mooney's shadow over Houllier and casts first doubts on his new recruits

DID we not like that.

Something told you it just wasn't to be Liverpool's day when Robbie Fowler turned away from a defender, shaped to smash home the equaliser ... and promptly fell flat on his backside.

In an instant all those bad memories of Barnsley two seasons ago came flooding back, along with the realisation that this season promises to be another rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows of life in the Premiership.

But, while no self-respecting supporter with a firm grip on reality should have been expecting to see a bulging trophy cabinet come May based on victory against Sheffield Wednesday, so the end of the world is not suddenly nigh again.

Even if it seems so this morning.

This was a terrible result make no mistake. The way Liverpool consistently failed to find any sort of prolonged creativity to break down a side, whose own unlikely triumph was based on brawn rather than brain, was extremely worrying.

Neither should anyone seek to hide behind the cliche that insists there are no easy games anymore. There are. And this should have been one of them.

This was Watford remember not Manchester United or even Coventry City for that matter. Watford, bookies favourites for the drop, managed by the "Turnip," need we go on. In the end, though, the scoreline could have been much grimmer.

If there is anything to be drawn from the defeat, and that in itself is a struggle, then it brings back into sharp focus the fact that Houllier's rebuilding task was never going to be a smooth transition from imperfect to perfect.

Suicide is painless, revolutions tend to be a bit bloodier.

The loss was not because his summer arrivals are still acclimatising to the differing demands of English football either. If Liverpool continue to leak soft goals and then gorge open those self-inflicted wounds further by failing to despatch what are classed as routine chances then what is already a long road to success is in danger of disappearing into the far distance.

In a nutshell, too many players slipped below the standard that is expected of them. New or otherwise.

To suddenly blame Houllier for that and the ensuing embarrassment, as one crank on a national radio phone-in proceeded to do on Saturday evening, is ludicrous.

"We win together. We lose together," said Houllier afterwards, his mood matching the colour of his dark suit. "From the early stages I did not recognise my team."

It is this very inconsistency, that fetes the` Frenchman one week and villifies him the next, he is striving to overcome.

Houllier, unfortunate that in Henchoz and Hamann his two signings with Premiership experience are currently on the sidelines, is an honest man.

When he says Liverpool are not in a position to challenge for the championship and that it will take two, three maybe even four years for them to be, he isn't trying to pull the wool over the fans' eyes in the name of job preservation.

Instead, he is simply attempting to make the overall picture a little clearer, especially for those fans who still prefer to rattle off 77, 78, 81 and 84 as an antidote to any form of modern-day criticism.

And yet for every wayward pass; for every raid that came to nothing to leave Saturday a million miles away from what 44,000 people wanted it to be, the frustrating aspect of Watford's first ever points at Anfield, let alone actual victory, was that Liverpool could have been awful and still won.

That in itself is another quality Houllier is charged with rediscovering; one where off-days aren't necessarily this damaging.

What proved to be the decisive goal came on 14 minutes as journeyman striker Tommy Mooney pounced on a loose ball in the kind of manner at least three Liverpool defenders failed to do and swept his shot past Sander Westerveld from six yards.

The lead should have been eclipsed by half-time, however.

Steven Gerrard, who was surely entitled to a little more help from those around him, saw his rising shot narrowly clear the crossbar, before Patrik Berger filled the mantle of worst offender at a time when the search for an equaliser was still loosely based on inspiration rather than solely perspiration.

The hard-working Fowler's clever drop of the shoulder sent him spinning away from Richard Johnson in midfield and allowed him to return a pass for the Czech to bear down on Watford's Chris Day.

A goal looked inevitable, but Berger, still to resume normal service in this campaign, rolled his shot onto the keeper's legs and the 35th minute chance was wasted.

He almost made amends seconds later when a curling free-kick was acrobatically tipped over the crossbar after Mark Williams had illegally stopped Fowler breaking into the penalty area.

But for all the subsequent huff and puff those moments were really as good at it got.

For the longer the wait for an equaliser continued, the less likely one looked to follow. Stretched in defence, particularly down the flanks, Liverpool coughed and spluttered in midfield as they struggled to counter Watford's sheer enthusiasm before running out of ideas altogether.

"I was annoyed because the quality of our play deteriorated as the game went on," added Houllier, as he saw his players abandon any team strategy

Indeed, as his charges resorted to the kind of headless chicken approach rival manager Graham Taylor had once famously labelled an England midfield containing Paul Ince, the visitors should have increased their advantage.

Westerveld ensured the inquests did not carry a far more sinister tone by twice denying Mooney as his defenders went walk-about and substitute Rigobert Song also headed a follow-up shot from Micah Hyde off the line.

This loss in itself doesn't shed anything particularly new on what the future will bring. How the players who filed out of Anfield, heads bowed and monosyllabic, react to it will however.

The Guv'nor awaits.

If there is any justice at all, a day of atonement will quickly follow.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Westerveld, Heggem (Song 81), Carragher, Hyypia, Matteo; Smicer (Riedle 73), Redknapp, Gerrard (Thompson 58), Berger; Fowler, Camara. Subs: Friedel, Staunton.

WATFORD: Day, Lyttle, Page, Williams, Robinson; Hyde, Johnson (Easton 58), Palmer, Kennedy; Ngonge (Foley 70), Mooney. Subs: Gudmundsson, Bonnot, Walker.

REFEREE: Alan Wilkie (Chester-le-Street)

BOOKINGS: Williams (foul 36), Page (foul 48), Mooney (foul 54), Thompson (ungentlemanly conduct 74).

ATTENDANCE: 44,174

©Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

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