Red tide washes over Spurs
Champions League place in sight as Houllier's team rise to fifth.
If Liverpool are to gate-crash next season's Champions League, it could still require Ipswich and Leeds to self-combust but, for the time being, Gérard Houllier's resurgent team could not be accused of failing to make their presence felt.
By overcoming a woefully inexperienced Tottenham side yesterday, Liverpool, who were playing their eighth game in 23 days, jumped above Chelsea into fifth position with games to spare in their concerted push to re-establish themselves among the elite of Europe.
That, according to Houllier, will be the only way their season can be judged successful, notwithstanding the Worthington Cup triumph and next month's FA Cup and Uefa Cup finals. Attitudes are clearly changing on Merseyside: whereas first once meant first, and second meant nothing, now third place will do very nicely indeed.
It is an enticing prospect and one that Glenn Hoddle must feel belongs to a different world. Deprived of an entire XI through injury, Tottenham's manager had little option but to deploy a makeshift side incorporating six players under 22 and three substitutes in Ian Hillier, John Piercy and Steven Ferguson who had never started a senior game.
Spurs may, indeed, have a bright future but Anfield is an unforgiving place for young pretenders and, though Liverpool may have had the heavier legs, Spurs finished with the heavier hearts after Gary McAllister and Robbie Fowler, with a goal apiece in the final 19 minutes, had added to Emile Heskey's early strike.
Willem Korsten had equalised midway through the opening half with his first Tottenham goal but Liverpool's bright and incisive attacking should, in all probability, have earned them an even more handsome victory.
Certainly it looked that way after seven minutes. Heskey has added composure to his other undoubted talents this season and, after Patrik Berger's incisive pass caught the Spurs defence square, his calm finish from the perimeter of the penalty area teed up an absorbing afternoon.
Worryingly for Liverpool, however, it was to be Heskey's last meaningful contribution. Helping out in midfield, his attempt to dispossess Korsten resulted in an ugly tangle that left both players requiring treatment and the England striker on his way to hospital. The good news for Houllier is that preliminary x-rays last night revealed nothing more than severe bruising.
The game threatened to take a marked swing in the 24th minute. Owen set off the chain of events by flashing a header beyond Sullivan from a miscued Berger drive. But, when his shrewd improvisation was ruled out for offside, Liverpool's lapse in concentration could have been costly.
Suddenly Oyvind Leonhardsen found himself with acres of space on the left. His centre picked out Korsten, who lashed a rising shot past the exposed Sander Westerveld.
Then in the 73rd minute Fowler, Heskey's replacement, worked the ball to Owen who scuffed his shot against Alton Thelwell's hand. Having turned down a more vociferous appeal against Tim Sherwood not long before, the referee Barrie Knight pointed to the spot and Gary McAllister finished with the unerring accuracy he had displayed against Barcelona last Thursday.
Hoddle accused Knight of being swayed by the Kop but television replays also showed that Owen's earlier "goal" should have stood. "If Glenn is unhappy, he just has to look at the video," said Houllier.
Two minutes from time Fowler headed Markus Babbel's precise cross past Sullivan and Liverpool's weary players left the pitch knowing they will have the rare luxury of a rest. "How will you cope without a midweek match?" Houllier was asked. He smiled, but it was through clenched teeth.
Liverpool (1) 3 - 1 (1) Tottenham
McAllister (70) pen
Fowler (88) Korsten (23)
Westerveld; Babbel, Carragher (Vignal), Henchoz, Hyypia; Berger, Gerrard, McAllister; Heskey (Fowler), Owen, Smicer (Hamann).
Sullivan; Carr, Gardner, Thelwell, Young; Clemence, Davies (Piercy), Korsten, Leonhardsen, Sherwood; Doherty.
Referee: B. Knight (Orpington)
Liverpool: Vignal (77)
Tottenham Hotspur: Clemence (72)
Tottenham Hotspur: 13
Tottenham Hotspur: 0
Tottenham Hotspur: 7
Tottenham Hotspur: 5
Tottenham Hotspur: 0
Tottenham Hotspur: 4
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