McAlpine peak conquered

GERARD HOULLIER'S New Order advanced its education in English football with the sort of ruthlessly efficient performance that roused stirring memories of the Liverpool of old.

The instant reward for standing strong against a concerted assault from Steve Bruce's impressive first division leaders is an eminently winnable fourth round tie against either Blackburn Rovers or West Brom at Anfield.

But manager Houllier will be equally as contented by the manner of this victory, that suggested his rebuilt side may be further along the learning curve than we had imagined.

Five of the Frenchman's starting eleven offered no previous experience of the uniquely British demands of FA Cup football yet they looked like old stagers as the Reds emerged from a potential problem tie with immense credit.

Huddersfield, top of Division One and unbeaten at home in the league this season, must be soul-destroyed having battered Liverpool's goal with chance after chance in the first half and dominated large portions of the match. But their failure to earn any tangible reward after a display of such determination and passion only serves to increase the significance of Liverpool's achievement in coming away from Yorkshire with victory.

Ultimately, the difference between the two teams was the supremely clinical finishing of striker Titi Camara, shortly before half time, and defender Dominic Matteo early in the second half. The degree of Liverpool's supremacy, however, went much deeper than that.

Houllier's side were crucially disciplined, focused and kept their nerve from the outset to withstand wave after wave of adrenaline-fuelled raids and then stole the victory with two moments of magic. It was the way Liverpool used to win cup clashes when every team they played wanted to collect a famous scalp.

Consider also that Houllier's selection possibilities were severely limited by injuries before kick-off and further disrupted during the game.

He was again denied the chance to link his preferred striking partnership of Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen. Houllier had hoped to start Fowler after seeing him impress as a substitute in last weekend's rousing 4-1 Premiership victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Anfield.

But the ankle injury that has forced him to miss 12 of Liverpool's last 14 games flared up again late last week and Houllier did not even risk giving the 24-year-old a place on the bench. He was also without suspended midfielder David Thompson from the side that blitzed Wednesday, but chose to make other changes.

Full-back Rigobert Song was dropped to the bench, with teenager Steven Gerrard taking his place in defence. Dominic Matteo was also relegated from the starting 11, with Steve Staunton returning to left-back and Jamie Carragher slotting into midfield. Czech midfielder Vladimir Smicer was back in the side after missing three games through injury.

As expected, Huddersfield attempted to unsettle Liverpool in front of a record 23,678 crowd during the opening 20 minutes and, indeed, the Reds could have succumbed at least twice early on.

Former Tranmere Rovers midfielder Kenny Irons, a boyhood Evertonian, had before the game revealed his dream of sending Liverpool crashing out of the competition by scoring a last-minute winner. The Huddersfield skipper almost got his wish sooner than expected as, left unmarked from a corner, he tested keeper Sander Westerveld with a drive from the edge of the box.

Another back-line mix-up moments later left Clyde Wijnhard cursing his luck - not for the last time in the afternoon - and Westerveld nursing a painful wrist. Westerveld's communication lines with centre-half Sami Hyypia became crossed as former Leeds United hit-man Wijnhard bore down on his goal in pursuit of a thoughtful through ball.

Hyypia pulled clear, expecting Westerveld to collect, but the keeper's slow reactions instead left him doing his best to avoid being clattered by the striker. Westerveld blocked Wijnhard's shot but required treatment after his arm bore the brunt of the challenge.

Camara flashed a hopeful shot wide of Huddersfield's goal in the eighth minute as Houllier's side at last managed to reciprocate some of the pressure. But Westerveld was soon back at the heart of the action, tipping wide a stinging shot from former Manchester United star, Ben Thornley.

Liverpool, although expecting to weather an early storm, nevertheless seemed shocked by the intensity of the Yorkshire side's power and purpose. Owen offered brief respite with an attempted chip from the edge of the box which Nico Vaesen held with little trouble, and Gerrard headed wide from Smicer's corner shortly after.

But the home side were soon pegging Liverpool back once again, this time Dean Gorre running unchecked to the edge of the box only to lash his shot wide. Midfielder Scott Sellars stroked another effort wide shortly afterwards.

If Liverpool's defenders thought they had been struggling up to this point, their cause was further hindered by the loss of full-back Staunton 10 minutes from the break after he indicated to the bench he was feeling a slight strain in his hamstring. But before the new defence had time to adjust, Camara had fired Liverpool into the lead with a beautiful goal.

Owen, forced to endure a pathetic chorus of booes each time he touched the ball, laid a clever pass off to Smicer.

His cross found Camara eight yards out and the Guinea international leapt into the air to despatch a vicious half-volley that Vaesen had no hope of saving. The goal came at just the right time for Liverpool. Wijnhard attempted to lift the home side's spirits on the stroke of half time, but again lashed wide of Westerveld's upright.

Westerveld had spent large portions of the first half anxiously gesticulating at his team-mates as Huddersfield launched raid after raid, and the opening 10 minutes of the second half ticked along in much the same vein.

Wijnhard was the chief protagonist, coming closest with a teasing header from Jamie Vincent's corner which he glanced just inches with of Westerveld's right-hand post. The agitation on Liverpool's bench was the clearest proof that Huddersfield were seriously troubling their more illustrious opposition.

But much of the Reds's anxiety both on the pitch and on the bench disappeared in the 58th minute when substitute Matteo smashed home a spectacular second goal after a sweeping, clinical move. It was a significant blow for Huddersfield that all but guaranteed Liverpool's place in the next round.

Smicer's early ball to Camara allowed him to curl a right-to-left cross-field ball into the path of the advancing Matteo. Hard work was still needed, but he managed it with sublime ease, carrying the ball 30 yards before powering home a fierce left-foot shot low across keeper Vaesen and in at the post.

The home side had proved enough of a threat for Liverpool to still need to exercise extreme caution despite the two-goal cushion. The Reds, however, began to play with greater assurance having clearly lost their nervous edge.

Owen twice had chances to grab the goal that would have blown away much of the unwarranted pressure that has been building around him in recent weeks. First he was blocked by Vincent as he attempted to break through in the 63rd minute, then he had a snap-shot from Smicer's cross saved by Vaesen.

Owen may not have got the goal his team-mates and all Liverpool fans are urging him to score, but he still displayed the sort of immense work ethic which by rights should make a nonsense of the ridiculous spoutings from those critics who seem only too willing to hammer him at every turn.

Sandwiched in between, Huddersfield striker Wijnhard continued to waste chances. This time, he screwed a shot hopelessly wide after pulling clear of centre-half Stephane Henchoz.

Houllier then swopped around his defence for the second time replacing the tiring Smicer with full-back Song in the 70th minute and moving Gerard back to his more usual midfield role.

Huddersfield had given everything in their brave bid to see-off Liverpool, but they were all played out as the game slipped into its final ten minutes. Houllier made his final change of the afternoon three minutes from time, bringing on teenager Jon Newby in place of Gerrard.`

Huddersfield Town (3-5-2): Vaesen, Jenkins, Vincent, Armstrong, Thornley (Donis 70), Gray, Gorre, Irons, Stewart (Schofield 82), Sellars, Wijnhard. Subs: Margetson, Dyson, Horne. 

Liverpool (4-4-2): Westerveld, Henchoz, Staunton (Matteo 35), Smicer (Song 70), Owen, Hyypia, Hamann, Camara, Carragher, Murphy, Gerrard (Newby 88).

Subs: Meijer, Friedel. 

Bookings: For Huddersfield - Gray (foul).

Referee: Rob Harris (Oxon).

SANDER WESTERVELD:Emerged with credit from a blistering introduction to FA Cup football. Made a string of fine saves, and would have had even more to do had Clyde Wijnhard packed his shooting boots. 8

STEVEN GERRARD: Does anything phase the classy teenager? Has played right-back a couple of time before, but probably received his stiffest examination of all from Huddersfield. 7

STEPHANE HENCHOZ: The sheer volume of chances on Liverpool's goal suggests the defenders had a torrid time. But Henchoz and Sami Hyypia repelled more than they allowed through. 6

SAMI HYYPIA: The Finnish international has enjoyed easier games at the heart of Liverpool's defence. But he still maintained control and composure. 6

STEVE STAUNTON: Withdrawn after little more than half-an-hour with a slight hamstring problem. Absorbed a lot of Huddersfield's attacks. 5

VLADIMIR SMICER: Back in the side after injury and certainly improving game by game. Clever crosses frequently caused problems for Huddersfield. 6

DIETMAR HAMANN: Efficient and quietly assured, the German international midfielder rarely appears flustered. That air of apparent calm should not be mistaken for lack of impetus. 7

JAMIE CARRAGHER: Back in the side as Houllier rotated his squad. A crucial role in helping Liverpool maintain a decisive presence in midfield. 6

DANNY MURPHY: Occasional good touches and showed plenty of battling spirit. Industrious. 6

TITI CAMARA: Intensifies the legend week after week. Already idolised by the Kop, the African gives absolute commitment and an unpredictability in passing and movement that causes countless problems for opposition defences. Great finish for his goal and brilliant vision for the pass that set-up Matteo's goal. 8

MICHAEL OWEN: While the world seems only to ready to condemn the young striker at every opportunity, he should content himself in the knowledge that Houllier and Liverpool's fans recognise him for what he is. Pathetically booed by Huddersfield's fans, the 19-year-old showed a tremendous work-rate without gaining the ultimate reward of a goal. 7

DOMINIC MATTEO: Great impact after coming on as a replacement for Staunton. It's a fair bet he won't score many better goals than this one. 7

Copyright - Liverpool Daily Post

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