Houllier happier as true Reds emerge

The prospect of moving on or rotting in the reserves, as threatened by Gerard Houllier after Liverpool's Carling Cup defeat by Bolton at Anfield, clearly does not appeal to his players. "They responded as I knew they would," Houllier said after this grittily achieved draw, "showing character and togetherness."

Liverpool just about deserved a result that keeps the race for fourth place nicely bunched. Indeed, they looked as if they might cling on for three until the 22-year-old goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland, made a rare and marginal misjudgment, withdrawing his arms from Laurent Robert's path a split second too late to prevent the Frenchman from earning a penalty. Alan Shearer put it in off the underside of the bar and thereafter Liverpool lived dangerously at times, surviving escapes such as Jermaine Jenas permitted with an untypical miskick after the erstwhile England centre-forward had nodded the ball back to him.

With a few minutes left Shearer himself, driving on the half-turn, was thrillingly denied by the excellent Kirkland, whom the experienced Jerzy Dudek will find hard to shift on this evidence. So Newcastle and their captain had to settle for just the one, which was enough to make Shearer fifth in the all-time list of top-division goalscorers, equal with Charles Buchan who, as older football-magazine readers will know, continued to shine once a month in retirement. Shearer now has 257. He needs another 100 to draw level with the leader, Jimmy Greaves, which may prove a tall order. Even for Shearer. Even now he is wholly devoted to the black-and-white cause.

Tord Grip, assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson, should have known better than to give the impression, in a newspaper interview, that England would welcome his return. Quite apart from being a waste of breath - Shearer retired from international football in 2000 and reiterated his reasons less than a year ago - Grip's remarks can only have sent a discordant and discouraging signal to England's strikers, established and purportive. What can we expect next: overtures to Nat Lofthouse?

Grip was here to see Emile Heskey, perhaps England's most maligned front man, sacrifice himself - not for the first time - in the interests of tactics. Initially, Heskey played right midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with young Florent Sinama-Pongolle the lone striker and Didi Hamann particularly effective in front of the back four. Having stifled Olivier Bernard in the first half, Heskey switched to the left to police the substitute Nolberto Solano. He also set up a chance for Simana-Polgolle; Liverpool, too, had their opportunities in an enthralling second half, Hamann's volley forcing a fine save from Shay Given and Vladimir Smicer, who had replaced Sinama-Pongolle, being unable to execute an impudent finishing from a narrow angle.

Earlier, there had been a reassertion of the old - or, as their detractors would have it, boring old - Liverpool. And the Newcastle defence had played straight into their hands soon after the start when Titus Bramble got in the way of Jonathan Woodgate as he endeavoured to win an aerial contest with Sinama-Pongolle, the ball running through to Danny Murphy who touched it past a slightly hesitant Given.

Kirkland, with Shola Ameobi bearing down on him, was more resolute. The goalkeeper can only have felt gratitude when Robert's free-kick declined to continue its curl quite enough to find the net and when Ameobi, served by Shearer, made himself an opening only to turn into trouble and be easily dispossessed by Igor Biscan, the less impressive of Liverpool's central defenders; Sami Hyypia was immense, back to his best.

Although Kirkland seemed to dispute the penalty award, after which he became one of four Liverpool players booked in the match, Houllier indicated afterwards that Liverpool had no complaint.

His counterpart, Sir Bobby Robson, went so far as to call Graham Poll's refereeing display "outstanding", though naturally the Newcastle manager was disappointed that his side's late efforts, which included two cleared off the goal-line, failed to yield victory.

Robson added: "Without Michael Owen and Harry Kewell Liverpool were more defensive than usual - and nearly got away with it."

By Houllier's reckoning, they were lacking "half a team". At least this facilitated the Premiership debut of John Otsemobor. He looks a useful right-back. Quick, too. You would be, mind, if someone had recently peppered your backside with a shotgun; it happened to poor Otsemobor on a night out.

Match details

Newcastle: Given, Hughes (Solano 46), Woodgate, Bramble, Bernard, Dyer, Jenas, Speed, Robert, Shearer, Ameobi.
Subs Not Used: O'Brien, Harper, Ambrose, LuaLua.
Booked: Bramble.
Goals: Shearer 63 pen.

Liverpool: Kirkland, Riise, Biscan, Hyypia, Otsemobor, Murphy, Hamann, Gerrard, Diouf, Sinama Pongolle (Smicer 52), Heskey.
Subs Not Used: Diao, Le Tallec, Traore, Luzi Bernardi.
Booked: Otsemobor, Kirkland, Hamann, Diouf.
Goals: Murphy 6.

Att: 52,151
Ref: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

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