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Reds' light flickers in shadow of past

Compared with recent barren years, Liverpool are having a successful season. One trophy has been won, another is a possibility and a Champions League place is well within reach.

Yet even now the best team so far produced by Gérard Houllier are apt to cower before the memories of things past. It is as if the ghosts of the great Liverpool sides of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish choose the most inauspicious moments to haunt the present players.

The power cut in extra-time of the Worthington Cup final, when Birmingham City briefly ran the game, was followed by this 2-0 defeat at Filbert Street which again found Houllier's side flickering like a faulty light bulb, only this time the filament failed altogether.

Ade Akinbiyi's strike shortly after half-time put the hosts infront and Muzzy Izzet flicked the switch by doubling the margin in injury time.

But Peter Taylor, the Leicester City manager, is among the more fair-minded of his kind and readily conceded that having a dozen players absent on international duty three days earlier could not have helped Liverpool's cause.

"If someone offered me the choice, I'd always play Liverpool when they've had 12 players away," he admitted.

But Houllier did not hide behind excuses: "It was not good enough. We just have to look at ourselves and realise that this is not acceptable."

Alternatively they could look at Leicester and remind themselves that strengths of character and desire are as important as sound technique and tactical awareness. Leicester, first under Martin O'Neill and now Peter Taylor, operate in the knowledge that hard work and concentration will often bridge any gaps in ability between themselves and more vaunted opponents.

So faithfully did Leicester follow this creed on Saturday that for the last hour they not only exceeded Liverpool in terms of work rate, they were the better side all round. Nobody personified this aspect of the game more than Robbie Savage, who since Neil Lennon departed for Celtic in December has become the fulcrum of a team that utilises a solid defensive platform for counter-attacks using the pace Leicester possess on their wings.

Opponents must find Savage as irksome as a Welsh corgi, forever snapping at the postman's heels. "We have to calm him down because sometimes he runs all over the place," said Taylor, as if to support the comparison. But on Saturday Savage was in the right place at the right moment to help turn the match Leicester's way.

The first half having been largely devoted to the spectacle of each set of centre-backs heading hopeful crosses away, the second was quickly redeemed by an aberration on the part of Robbie Fowler. Gaining possession deep in his own half, he brought the ball under control and glanced up before laying it carefully across the left-hand corner of his own penalty area straight to Savage. He quickly found Izzet who fed a short ball to Dean Sturridge, before the striker's low, square pass was turned in by Akinbiyi.

Thereafter Liverpool attacked steadily but untidily, until a long clearance from Andrew Impey, who had replaced the injured Frank Sinclair before half-time, dropped to another Leicester substitute, Arnar Gunnlaugsson, and with the Liverpool defence caught square the Icelander sent in Izzet to complete a notable victory that keeps Leicester's hopes of European football next season very much alive.

Houllier was convinced that Liverpool should have had a penalty in the 68th minute when Emile Heskey went down after tangling with Gerry Taggart. True, Taggart, in falling, did grab his old team-mate around the waist but not before Heskey had caught his face with a flailing arm.

Heskey, as Houllier was saying before the match, has become a better player since moving to Anfield from Filbert Street, but on Saturday Liverpool did not provide the service to allow him to prove as much to his former colleagues.

Meanwhile, Craig Brown will ask Liverpool's Gary McAllister to return to the Scotland squad for the two World Cup qualifiers against Belgium and San Marino later this month.

Leicester (0) 2 - 0 (0) Liverpool
Akinbiyi (51)
Izzet (90)

Leicester City
Royce; Davidson, Elliott, Rowett, Sinclair (Impey), Taggart; Izzet, Lewis, Savage; Akinbiyi (Gunnlaugsson), Sturridge (Benjamin).

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

Referee: D. J. Gallagher (Banbury)

Attendance: 21,924

Bookings
Leicester City: Izzet (80)
Liverpool: Heskey (68)

Sent off
None

Free-kicks

Leicester City: 9
Liverpool: 7


Corners

Leicester City: 3
Liverpool: 1


Goal attempts

Leicester City: 9
Liverpool: 8


On target

Leicester City: 7
Liverpool: 3


Hit woodwork

Leicester City: 0
Liverpool: 0


Offsides

Leicester City: 4
Liverpool: 7

© Guardian Newspapers Limited

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