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Liverpool Daily Post report

Seldom can a Liverpool victory have been followed with the manager interspersing talk of Zorro by dragging his inquisitors into a role-play about how to best protect a 1-0 lead.

Gerard Houllier may have insisted beforehand he was not feeling the pressure of an at best mediocre start to the season, but his relief afterwards in an animated press conference was almost tangible.

When asked immediately after Wednesday's comical elimination from the Worthington Cup where the next victory would come from, more in hope than belief, it seemed, came the fanciful reply: "Saturday."

Given his side's record against the leading lights thus far, it was probably an answer delivered with more confidence than he had the right to muster.

It is one of football's many imponderables that victories against Premiership leaders Leeds United, plus Champions' League qualifiers Arsenal and Chelsea constitute nine of the 14 points Liverpool possess; at the same time heaping further frustration upon the performances against Watford, Leicester City and Southampton.

The arrival of Gianluca Vialli's side did not herald the free-flowing, eye-catching performance that the home crowd may have wanted, but then again the final result courtesy of David Thompson's 48th minute winner was definitely not expected either.

For some weeks now, the pass and move traditions that are carved in tablets of stone and kept in the Anfield vaults have been barely recognisable; a dearth of creativity aggravated by a lack of composure and insistence on rushing everything to the point of panic.

And so in its absence came a passionate, regimented display of discipline, guts and commitment that ensured Liverpool's struggle to string pass after pass after pass together did not stand as a major hindrance.

To restrict Chelsea, the same Chelsea who had humiliated Manchester United 5-0 in their previous Premiership outing, to just one chance throughout should serve as a huge confidence booster as they edge towards hopefully rediscovering the sparkle that eludes them for now.

In one sense it shows that when their inconsistencies are eventually ironed out, the players would seem to have most of the qualities needed to succeed. Albeit in time.

So what of Houllier now?

Those who rushed to set up the guillotine after defeat at The Dell are presumably now penning their letters of apology.

Hopefully, they are praising his tactical nous to swamp midfield, leaving the dangerous Gustavo Poyet practically anonymous, which had the knock-on effect of rendering Gianfranco Zola powerless long before the Italian was replaced.

Earlier in the season, as the rollercoaster negotiated the highs and subsequent lows, Houllier stated he was neither a hero nor a zero. And so that remains the case.

He still has a lot to prove, but should he not be asked to prove it when the players he has bought are in the trenches with him and not spectators on the sidelines?

Out went the aerial presence of Erik Meijer, while the bold decision to hand Danny Murphy the opportunity for which he craves, paid-off handsomely as he ran himself into the ground, flitting between bolstering the midfield and exploiting the space just behind Michael Owen.

The talented Murphy showed he is fully deserving of another chance next week and it is one he must take. He still finds himself in a catch-22 situation because when everyone is fit and available, there simply isn't the congested fixture calendar with only the League and FA Cup remaining to merit constant tinkering.

Squad rotation is a symptom of success - one that Vialli finds himself frequently having to mull over. Yet with a vital Champions' League game against Galatasaray in midweek, he chose to still field his full strength side.

That in itself was a compliment to Liverpool, who gleaned no significant advantage from the late dismissals of both Marcel Desailly and Dennis Wise as referee Mike Reed, rumoured to have left his cards in the dressing room for the first-half spectacularly made up for it after the interval.

Afforded the pleasure of enjoying possession in their own half, Chelsea never looked capable of claiming a goal, let alone the early strike which has left Liverpool chasing so many games this season and prompted Houllier to liken his charges to the fictional masked bandit.

"In those situations everyone tries to be Zorro. Everyone tries to bring the solutions themselves," he said, far happier with the team first approach which provided the basis for the vital victory.

Once again Sami Hyypia was a colossus in defence, albeit against Chris Sutton, who stalked the pitch more concerned with sparking the kind of feuds Graeme Le Saux has previously had sole rights to, spectacularly letting Vialli down in the process and ending the game as a 10m liability.

The first half was instantly forgettable barring Desailly's booking for handball, later to prove vital, which allowed Jamie Redknapp to blast a 35-yard free-kick just over Ed Goey's crossbar.

Having generally failed to conjure up a talking point of note, it took Liverpool just three minutes of the second half to claim the all important breakthrough.

Frank Leboeuf, who was to depart shortly afterwards a victim of the savage English game (or perhaps not), needlessly shoved Michael Owen to the floor and the ensuing free-kick produced the kind of pandemonium and bad defending more likely to make Anfield cringe than cheer.

Steve Staunton's curling centre left Poyet, under pressure from Rigobert Song, unable to direct his header away from goal and, as the ball fell among a mass of bodies, the effervescent Thompson reacted first to pounce from five yards.

Having nudged in front, there was even the opportunity to extend the lead on 74 minutes, which would have given the margin of victory a slightly flattering appearance.

A threaded pass from Vladimir Smicer - who at times looked like a conscientious objector as he struggled to exert any sort of influence on proceedings - allowed Murphy to gather the ball inside the penalty area an instant before being flattened by the covering Desailly.

The Frenchman's punishment should have simply been the sight of Mr Reed, arm outstretched, pointing to the penalty spot but a second yellow card, followed by red, hinted at a miscarriage of justice.

As it was, Owen offered a lifeline by getting his bearings wrong for the second time in a week, dragging a poor spot-kick past the post with Dutchman De Goey committed the other way.

The miss could have proved costly as Chelsea's numerical disadvantage seemed to act as a catalyst to finally rouse their superstars from their slumbers. Sutton and Wise combined to offer substitute Tore Andre Flo a glimmer of goal with 10 minutes remaining, but, as 40,000 people held their breath, Brad Friedel produced a magnificent save to deny the Norwegian.

As it was, Houllier was as ecstatic with 1-0 as he would have been with 2-0.

"My players are too generous," he continued, pulling one unsuspecting journalist towards him. "They want to go forward all the time. Never mind 2-0; 1-0 is a good result. You get to 1-0, then you get in position . . . and finish. Game over."

And that was that - Wise's subsequent dismissal for lashing an arm out at Smicer merely underlining how much work Vialli, let alone his French counterpart, has to do in actual reality.

Given Liverpool's gift for making life hard for themselves, it would appear the real test lies next week when they return to face Southampton. Once again, they have managed to clamber on to a launchpad from which their season can finally take off. The character that was so evident on Saturday must remain.

They must not fail.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Friedel, Song, Hyypia, Henchoz, Staunton; Thompson, Redknapp, Carragher, Smicer; Murphy (Heggem 80); Owen (Meijer 86). Subs: Matteo, Camara, Nielsen.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey, Ferrer, Desailly, Leboeuf (Le Saux 64), Babayaro; Petrescu (Lambourde 74), Deschamps, Wise, Poyet; Zola (Flo 68), Sutton. Subs: Morris, Cudicini.

Referee: Mike Reed (Birmingham)

Bookings: Desailly (handball 37), Sutton (persistent fouling 42), Leboeuf (foul 48), Staunton (foul 53), Redknapp (foul 55), Murphy (foul 66), Desailly (foul 73), Lambourde (foul 82), Thompson (foul 90)

Sending-off: Desailly (73), Wise (87).

Copyright - Liverpool Daily Post

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