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Jury split over pushy Heskey

When Gérard Houllier invested £11m on the raw-boned Emile Heskey eight months ago those supporters who backed his judgment could have convened to discuss the transfer in a telephone box and still had room for a tray of sandwiches.

Thirty-one senior games and 15 goals later, Heskey has come to represent the sort of bargain one expects to unearth in a Tunisian bazaar, the sporting equivalent of a neatly woven hearth rug which is every bit as practical as it is aesthetically appealing.

But love, of course, is blind and on Saturday evening Liverpool's manager seemed willing, indeed anxious, to stand toe to toe with the world when he was required to sweep to Heskey's defence.

Twelve minutes into a soulless game of dubious quality, Heskey shoved his afternoon-long attendant Richard Rufus in the chest. Having raised his hands to an opponent, the striker was extremely fortunate to escape any form of punishment.

Strange, then, that less than two minutes later he repeated the offence, this time pushing Rufus to the ground after emerging from a challenge with the defender. It was extremely foolish of him.

The referee Rob Styles was moved to take action but the card he issued was yellow; it was not, in his view, a hanging offence.

Charlton's manager Alan Curbishley is hardly one to stoke up a controversy but he was peeved at Styles's leniency. "Heskey should have gone off," he said. "He should have been booked for the first offence and then sent off for the second one. What rubs salt into the wound is that it was him who scored the second goal, the one that killed the game off for us. That really hurts.

"If one of my players had twice pushed someone to the ground he'd have been sent off. If the law says you should go for raising your hands then it must be applied."

Houllier rather likes Curbishley, as a man and as a manager, but here was one disagreement which was not going to be bridged.

"I am surprised that a man who is going to be involved with his country's national team should have a go at a player who wasn't being protected," said the Liverpool manager. "I think his comments are distressing, out of order and over the top."

Interesting, knockabout stuff even if between them Houllier and Curbishley did transform a molehill into a mountain. Still, at least the afternoon had belatedly been given a competitive edge. "What we must do is forget that it was an average game and just remember it was a good win," said Houllier.

Despite scoring inside five minutes, Mark Fish turning a Christian Ziege cross into his own goal, Liverpool were ill at ease all the way up to Heskey's fine header from the substitute Vladimir Smicer's cross which signalled the end of Charlton's limited resistance.

Markus Babbel added a third with a close-range header in the final minute but by that point Curbishley was preparing his condemnation of Heskey.

Liverpool (1) 3 - 0 (0) Charlton
Fish (6) og
Heskey (77)
Babbel (88)

Liverpool
Westerveld; Babbel, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Ziege (Smicer); Gerrard, McAllister (Hamann); Barmby, Fowler (Murphy), Heskey.

Charlton Athletic
Kiely; Fish, Kishishev (Brown), Powell, Rufus; Jensen, Johansson, Kinsella, Salako (Parker); Pringle (Bartlett), Stuart.

Referee: R. Styles (Waterlooville)

Attendance: 43,515

Bookings
Liverpool: Heskey (14)
Charlton Athletic: Rufus (22)

Sent off
None

Free-kicks

Liverpool: 10
Charlton Athletic: 9


Corners

Liverpool: 2
Charlton Athletic: 2


Goal attempts

Liverpool: 13
Charlton Athletic: 7


On target

Liverpool: 3
Charlton Athletic: 2


Hit woodwork

Liverpool: 0
Charlton Athletic: 0


Offsides

Liverpool: 6
Charlton Athletic: 5

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000

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