Liverpool Daily Post report

HAVING sat and witnessed Filbert Street become embroiled by a protest no-one outside of Leicester gives two hoots about, maybe Liverpool's supporters should have hoisted their own placards into the air as their 'heroes' trooped gingerly over to them with their heads bowed.

Certainly, there was the time to scribble down the bluntest of messages, plus the opening chapters in the 'A-Z of Premiership Defending or 'How To Upset Friends And Alienate People' had they so wanted.

For the painfully frustrating aspect of this latest let-down was that everyone saw the equaliser coming. So much so, there was almost a sense of anti-climax when it duly arrived in the 85th minute from the impressive Muzzy Izzet.

Every man, woman and child decked out in a Carlsberg kit knew it; Phil Thompson knew it; Gerard Houllier knew it; and Martin O'Neil half-hoped, but probably knew it as well.

Thus, there was the lasting image of the Frenchman, his mood further taking on the colour of his black coat with every wayward pass, anxiously trying to coax his players out of a shocking complacency. And when that failed, stalking the touchline and repeatedly tapping his head in a vain attempt to get them to use theirs.

It failed. They failed. It was one of those days.

In fact, the only ones who didn't see it coming, ironically seemed to be the very ones who could have done something to prevent more points being carelessly tossed away. The ones who should have known better than anyone, given the weight of recent history.

Holding a Michael Owen-inspired advantage and facing 10-men following the 51st minute dismissal for two bookable offences of Leicester's Frank Sinclair, Liverpool inexplicably stopped. You couldn't accuse them of giving up totally, but had they brought out deck chairs and knotted handkerchiefs the effect would not have been too dissimilar.

Seldom can a disbelieving Houllier have watched his side waste so much possession, or chosen so many wrong passes, played with so little of the fluency and cohesion of which they are capable, and, worryingly, sacrifice a team ethic for individuality.

Houllier refrained from giving his players the kind of public tongue-lashing they probably deserved for a quite pitiful second-half display. He expressed his disappointment, but said he couldn't fault their commitment. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the root of the problems as they strolled through proceedings with no sense of urgency as if they had a right to collect a victory at a ground where such occurances are as rare as rocking horse droppings.

In many ways, the manner of this draw was infinitely more difficult to swallow than defeat against Manchester United seven days earlier, even if that is always like trying to digest a bowling ball.

In attempting to rake through the ashes and come up with something positive, you are left, almost apologetically, pointing once again to the fact that Dietmar Hamann, Vladimir Smicer and Stephane Henchoz are still missing. If all three were available for the derby clash then all three would walk straight into the starting line-up.

That in itself offers a telling verdict on some of those currently in possession of a jersey who are doing their best to ensure there isn't, in fact, the kind of competition for places at the club that the management team craves.

The afternoon ended as it had started - badly.

If there is criticism to be aimed at Houllier then it is that he failed to orchestrate the kind of defensive reshuffle that many perceived would be inevitable. Vegard Heggem replaced Rigobert Song, but otherwise the backline which had surrendered so tamely at the merest sight of David Beckham remained unaltered.

Exactly what the manager was thinking after 60 seconds when Leicester rushed into the lead, he is probably best keeping to himself. As Liverpool saw their own corner turn into a counter-attack, so they had three chances to snuff out the potential for any danger.

However, Dominic Matteo's nerves saw him prod a pass straight to Izzet and he sent Tony Cottee streaking away from what little cover there was to clip a shot over the advancing Sander Westerveld.

"That was not a mistake," said a contrite Houllier, "that was a blunder."

Liverpool responded by seizing the lead with two goals from Owen, who had earlier hit the post with a header and was only ushered into the starting line-up due to Robbie Fowler's ankle injury.

A 23rd-minute penalty after Matt Elliott and Gerry Taggart had abruptly halted Patrik Berger's progress, was followed by a tap in which perversely stemmed from a Leicester corner.

Jamie Carragher's headed clearance sent Titi Camara into over-drive, out-pacing Robbie Savage and slipping an intelligent ball inside to the supporting Matteo. He located Owen lurking in space in the penalty area and normal service was resumed.

His goals, however genteel, were the only real bright spot.

The jet-heeled acceleration which takes him away from defenders is, quite understandably, yet to return, while his lack of match fitness saw him fade.

But it was wholly reassuring to see him back in a red shirt and offering glimpses of the talent that remains capable of masking the defensive deficiencies against the lesser lights.

And having nudged their noses in front - without playing particularly well - that should have been game over. But instead of giving them the confidence to go on and score four or five, it filled them with airs and graces they cannot justifiably boast of having.

When they were presented with the perfect opportunity to offer a near-perfect response to the United defeat, so Liverpool succeeded only in leaving themselves wide open for further criticism.

If the defence was at fault, then what about a midfield which has now under-achieved in three of the last four halves it has played? Time after time, they broke forward with a healthy numerical advantage only to worryingly lose their way when they moved within touching distance of the penalty area.

Their inadequacies allowed Leicester to regain a foothold that should have been beyond them. Elliott was ushered into attack and the defensive disharmony, which presents itself when confronted by the slightest pressure, reappeared. Westerveld had attempted to defuse any danger by leaving his line, but he is finding acclimatising to English football fraught-filled.

In the end, it was only a matter of time. Taggart's hopeful pass for once saw Sami Hyypia beaten and when Elliott belied his cumbersome nature to thread an astute pass through to Izzet, a thousands premonitions came true.

Had Liverpool then proceeded to throw away all three points no-one could have been surprised.

Indeed, anyone sneaking into the ground would have thought Leicester had won. That they were not celebrating said it all.

LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2): Arphexad, Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart, Guppy; Izzet, Savage, Lennon, Impey (Oakes 60); Cottee (Gilchrist 66), Heskey. Subs: Fenton, Fettis, Zagorakis.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Westerveld, Heggem, Hyypia, Carragher, Matteo; Thompson, Gerrard, Redknapp (Murphy 78), Berger; Camara (Meijer 55), Owen. Subs: Friedel, Staunton, Song.

Referee: Uriah Rennie (Sheffield)

Bookings: Sinclair, Gerrard, Thompson.

Sendings-off: Sinclair, Thompson

Report by Paul Joyce Liverpool Daily Post

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