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Ipswich make Houllier pay

Perhaps fittingly, it was beneath bleak skies that Liverpool were again confirmed as little more than bit-part players in the Premiership's grand scheme of things.

The fact that they most certainly did not deserve to slip to a first home defeat in seven months is an irrelevance, for hard-luck stories are ten a penny in modern football.

Ipswich had won just one of their previous 28 senior fixtures at Anfield, curiously on their last visit five years ago shortly before they were relegated. Their sojourn among English football's elite will be longer and more productive this time around.

"I am very, very proud," said the Ipswich manager, George Burley. "To come to Anfield and win is something very special for all of us."

At least those bemused Merseysiders who have looked on with a mixture of admiration and incredulity at the rise and rise of the Ipswich phoenix will this morning appreciate what all the fuss is about.

Rather like another recently promoted side, Charlton Athletic, Ipswich move the ball smartly, intelligently and with great speed; they have learned quickly that in the Premiership an ability to transform defence into attack in the blink of an eye really is to be envied.

In some respects they were a little fortunate yesterday for they accepted the one opportunity which came their way and then profited handsomely from a curious sense of lethargy which, for lengthy periods, held Liverpool firmly in an unyielding grip.

For once scoring on home soil represented a struggle for Liverpool. Certainly had their forwards been clinical rather than clumsy, proficient rather than profligate, the stalemate would not have endured quite as long as it did.

But, a reduction in Liverpool's potential for plunder was, perhaps, inevitable with manager Gérard Houllier opting to leave his most potent weapon, Emile Heskey, on the touch-line. The big man's entrance was delayed until the 60th minute which was precisely 60 minutes too late in most people's estimation. " We couldn't believe it when we saw that Heskey wasn't on their team-sheet. That's when we knew we had a real chance," said Ipswich goalscorer Marcus Stewart.

Mind you, in technical terms at least, there wasn't too much wrong with the pair invited to make light of Heskey's absence - Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler. Of course, the debate as to whether the two can actually forge a meaningful partnership rages on - it has come to represent the ultimate pub debate in Liverpool.

Maybe they can, maybe they can't. Yesterday, as on many previous occasions it didn't work out. The most worrying aspect was that few present actually believed it would.

Unfortunately for Houllier, having bounded off the bench to thunderous applause, Heskey was struck by what is best described as Fowler's Disease, that is to say he stormed clear only to delay his shot so long that John McGreal and Fabian Wilnis could usher him away from goal.

The game was decided deep into first-half stoppage time when Stewart displayed the predatory instinct which was to elude Liverpool, skipping around Stephane Henchoz and Sander Westerveld before steering home low and hard.

"We had enough chances to have won this game with something to spare but, for what ever reason, we just did not take them," said Houllier with the look of a man whose Christmas had already been ruined.

Liverpool (0) 0 - 1 (1) Ipswich
Stewart (45)

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

Ipswich Town
Wright, R; Hreidarsson, McGreal, Venus, Wilnis; Clapham, Holland, Magilton, Wright, J; Scowcroft, Stewart (Croft).

Referee: A. G. Wiley (Burntwood)

Attendance: 43,509

Bookings
Liverpool: Ziege (31)
Ipswich Town: Clapham (78) Venus (80) Croft (88)

Sent off
None

Free-kicks

Liverpool: 12
Ipswich Town: 14


Corners

Liverpool: 3
Ipswich Town: 3


Goal attempts

Liverpool: 14
Ipswich Town: 11


On target

Liverpool: 5
Ipswich Town: 6


Hit woodwork

Liverpool: 2
Ipswich Town: 0


Offsides

Liverpool: 8
Ipswich Town: 5 


© Guardian Newspapers Limited

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