Reds win war of nerves

Winning is everything. Sometimes it's deserved, at other times the gods are smiling on you.

Liverpool grabbed three vital points more by fate than design on Saturday, but they must improve to build on what is now officially a "decent" start to the season.

Games like this are a test of character, physical ability and nerve as much as skill.

Manchester City thought they were meeting a Liverpool team with a soft underbelly.

They thought Liverpool would submit under their aggression and intimidation. They thought that if they pumped enough long balls, corners and throw-ins into the Liverpool box, it would be enough to get a result.

They were wrong.

What City did prove, however, is that Wimbledon haven't really gone down. The spirit of the Dons is alive and well and they wear Royle Blue.

Missiles into the box

City are a club everyone agrees deserve to be in the top flight, but you wouldn't want to watch their horrible brand of football every week.

In fact, one can't help thinking their much-traumatised fans deserve better than a side with a game based entirely on that hideous football notion of "playing for the second ball."

Corners and set-pieces are the priority, as well as kicking lumps out of anything within a one-yard radius, and only when the classy George Weah belatedly appeared did the visitors look capable of producing anything from open play.

Those missiles into the box caused panic in the Liverpool defence throughout, though, and no team should be too heavily criticised for playing to their limitations.

The first half was dreadful, but it was enlivened by one moment of class by Michael Owen in the 11th minute.

He pounced onto Emile Heskey's defence splitting pass before striking an exquisite right foot finish with the outside of his boot.

Owen's confidence is now sky high and he's in tremendous form. He has half his goals tally of last season already.

At the other end, scrambles in the six yard box were happening with too much regularity for the Reds' liking.

Sander Westerveld made a point blank save from Paulo Wanchope and Heskey cleared off the line. It was direct, predictable stuff from the visitors, but stopping it was not easy.

The height of Sami Hyypia was clearly missed, but Stephane Henchoz had an outstanding match and Markus Babbel played well in the centre of defence. It would be wrong, however, to say Liverpool looked comfortable at the back collectively.

The Reds' only other moment of threat before the break came when Heskey was fouled by Steve Howey. The Liverpool striker thought it was in the box. Referee Barber consulted his assistant and gave a free-kick instead. It was a 50-50 decision which went City's way.

City started the second half on top, until their aggression ultimately led to Liverpool's most impressive spell.

After Heskey was felled by Howey and on the receiving end of diving accusations, he responded with an electric spell of form.

Owen brought a save from Nicky Weaver and Heskey headed over as the tempo was raised.

Finally, Dietmar Hamann volleyed a beauty with his left foot beyond Weaver to make it 2-0 on 53 minutes. That should have sealed the points, but we know better than to believe such things now.

Weah made his appearance and it was bemusing that he wasn't introduced sooner. He was sensational and put the game on a knife-edge with a sublime finish on 66 minutes. He danced his way through the Liverpool defence before hitting an unstoppable right foot shot. A great goal.

The African would have had two goals in five minutes had a header from a Kevin Horlock free-kick not been straight at Westerveld.

A blatant penalty 10 minutes from the end, converted by Horlock, and it was like The Dell all over again. Traore brought down Alfe Haaland and credit goes to referee Barber, who was unsighted but once again trusted the correct decision of his assistant. Common sense refereeing deserves a mention when it happens.

But with the image of Royle's clenched fist aimed towards the home crowd fresh in the memory, and City believing they'd earned a point, Hamann blasted in his second. In a moment of irony, Liverpool gave City a taste of their own medicine to score the winner.

Exciting and dramatic

Christian Ziege made an impressive cameo appearance and it was his long throw which fell invitingly at the feet of his German teammate.

Poor Joe must have been heartbroken. He was obviously left speechless, hence his traditional failure to attend the post-match Press conference. He really must learn to accept defeat with humility.

Royle did make own or two waffling, barbed comments to the cameras, however, about the conduct of Liverpool's players. Clearly the dummies came out of the pram at that stage.

Although this was an exciting and dramatic game, little football was played. It was fitting that the only genuine moments of class ended in goals and, fortunately for Liverpool, it was they who grabbed three.

Liverpool are frustrating at the moment. Individual moments of brilliance are typical, but the team shape has not quite evolved yet.

It should be remembered, however, that eight first team players were missing on Saturday, so it is a reflection of the strength in depth in the Liverpool squad that they've taken 10 points in five games.

For now, results are good and Liverpool are in a strong early season position.

As for City, they probably won't go down. Then again, we said that about Wimbledon didn't we?

© Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

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