Liverpool Daily Post report

LIVERPOOL may have climbed into the Premiership's second place for the first time under his management, but Gerard Houllier wasn't about to dust down the champagne bottles.

Sure, there was plenty of talk of landmarks and milestones after a victory that saw the Reds move a telling step closer automatic Champions League qualification.

But amid understandable optimism Liverpool will once again grace a competition they last played in 15 years ago, there was also a stark warning to those who may think the hard work has been done.

"We haven't achieved anything yet," insisted Houllier, mindful that dreams could turn to tears even with just six games remaining.

"We must not get carried away," he added. "We must stay extremely focused because there is still so much to play for."

On the evidence of this performance, Liverpool's players are perfectly in tune with their manager's sentiments - although it can't hurt for him to publicly sprinkle a dose of caution every now and again.

Tottenham's game plan was rigid, disciplined and, by manager George Graham's own admission, designed solely to smother Liverpool's creative urges at every opportunity.

So it will have been with a great deal of satisfaction for Houllier that Liverpool became the first team this season to beat the Londoners by more than one goal.

That they collected another three points, stretched their unbeaten run to 11 games and moved above Leeds United in the race for Europe is testament to just how much the Reds have progressed this season.

Patience and determination have been the watchwords of a remarkable run of form that has lifted them back among English football's elite, and that was as much in evidence yesterday as at any other time this season.

Liverpool nurtured their focus long enough in a dour first-half to snatch the goal that set them on the way to another crucial success.

And from that point, they maintained the power and purpose to ensure the final result was never going to be in doubt.

Houllier has strived to instill admirable virtues in his players, but every team also needs quality and class if they are to be a success. Liverpool have those ingredients in abundance.

They were certainly evident in Patrik Berger's beautiful goal that finally opened up the tightest of games. Dietmar Hamann fed David Thompson, who carried the ball a yard before clipping an astute pass to Berger.

The Czech ace stepped left in tune with the ball's motion, judged the bounce perfectly and dispatched a fierce 25-yard shot into the net which gave Spurs' keeper Walker no chance.

That strike was in stark contrast to the 35 minutes that had gone before.

It was 20 minutes before either side launched an attack worthy of the name when Reds' defender Dominic Matteo pulled clear down the left flank after Steffen Iversen had lost his footing. But Matteo's cross into the box was safely cleared by Tottenham's rearguard.

That assault injected life into a game that was drifting hopelessly.

The first sign of a breakthrough came after 24 minutes when Chris Perry was unlucky to be booked for a block on Michael Owen when he could not get out of the way of the speedy striker.

Spurs were stung by Berger's free-kick which deflected narrowly wide, and Ginola's neat touch put Darren Anderton in for a cross-shot that Matteo hacked clear.

There were a few other half-chances before Berger finally shattered the deadlock.

And after the goal, Liverpool stepped up the pace in an attempt to tie up the game before the break.

As if not to be outdone by Berger's effort, Emile Heskey smashed a scorching shot onto the crossbar after skipping beyond the challenges of Chris Perry and England team-mate Sol Campbell.

Liverpool, with Danny Murphy taking the place of the 'rested' Steven Gerrard, increased their domination in the opening stages of the second half, despite Tottenham sticking rigidly to a plan which strived to allow the home side not an inch of space.

But the Reds continued to probe with intent, which allowed Thompson to open up the visitors twice inside a minute.

First he lashed a shot from Berger's pass into the grateful arms of Walker. Then he broke beyond Spurs' back-line to leave himself one-on-one with Walker, but dithered with his shot too long which allowed the Tottenham keeper to gratefully divert the danger.

Liverpool eventually claimed a deserved second goal in the 61st minute.

Owen turned Perry on the edge of the box and slipped the ball to Heskey.

The big striker surged into the box and saw his first shot blocked by Walker before neatly slipping the ball square for the unmarked Owen to stab home from a couple of yards.

And that was that.

Tottenham rarely stirred, while you sensed Liverpool could have taken the game on had the need arisen.

Thompson warmed Walker's hands with a long-range effort before making way for substitute Vladimir Smicer's return to action after over a month with an ankle injury.

Spurs boss Graham sought fresh impetus by bringing on youngsters Matthew Etherington and Simon Davies in place of Clemence and the ineffectual David Ginola.

Houllier made his second substitution five minutes from time, bringing on Vegard Heggem to replace Murphy, whose parting shot had been a 20-yard free-kick which ballooned almost as high over the crossbar.

Liverpool broke through Tottenham's back-line again moments later, with a sweeping move that ended with Berger picking out Czech mate Smicer with a superb cross-field lob which the winger smashed first time, only to see Walker block.

Owen made way for Titi Camara in the closing stages, but the fans will be glad to hear that this time there was no suggestion of injury forcing the switch.

Things really are looking up.

© Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

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