Heskey plays straight man in Liverpool's twisted tale

By Kevin McCarra

There are victories that just have to be endured. The jibes kept on darting out from the crowd here and Liverpool will also have winced at their own prosaic build-up, but the principal task was achieved even if it was also immediately forgotten. There will be no ridicule, no crisis.

In their present sensitive state, self-respect has to be carefully preserved at the Anfield club. Gérard Houllier can relish 48 hours or so in which the volume of the speculation about his replacement by Martin O'Neill drops to the level of background murmur.

He should therefore think kindly of the man who was initially left among the substitutes even after Liverpool had decided that the injured Michael Owen was not ready to make his comeback here. The Yeovil fans may have chanted "Heskey for Weymouth" near the end, but their target had really been identifiable as an international footballer.

After supposing that the guile of Harry Kewell and vivacity of Florent Sinama Pongolle would undo Third Division defenders, Houllier had to turn to more direct means by replacing the latter with Emile Heskey. Although the substitute is not accustomed to inspiring exaltation when he steps towards the pitch, the subdued Liverpool fans were soon to appreciate him.

Almost immediately he took a pass from the composed Dietmar Hamann and drove against the goalkeeper Chris Weale from an angle. The move smacked of the purposefulness that had eluded the visitors. With Yeovil wearying and disrupted by injuries, others picked up the straight-forward tone that Heskey had set and Vladimir Smicer struck the inside of a post.

The substitute was to be even more accurate with his finishing in the 69th minute as he moved on to Danny Murphy's diagonal through-ball and fired into the far corner of the net. At his worst, of course, Heskey taps meekly on doors that he ought to smash off their hinges, and Houllier does need new forwards.

The signing of Djibril Cissé looks imminent. The Auxerre forward should arrive in the summer for a fee in the region of £10m, but Houllier yesterday denied rumours that he had come to Anfield this weekend to undergo a medical and sign a pre-contract agreement. "He wants to," said Houllier playfully. "At this stage nothing is true about Djibril Cissé. It doesn't mean that it won't be true in the future."

The Yeovil manager was mesmerised. "Can we have him on loan?" Gary Johnson pleaded. On yesterday's evidence he can be happy with the present squad, whose objective is promotion to the Second Division.

Lee Johnson was the emblem of a team with aspirations towards cultivated football. The midfielder weaved a patterned building with passes that cajoled and inspired Yeovil on to the attack. In frankness, though, the firepower was insufficient to disturb a trenchant Liverpool defence very often.

Jerzy Dudek did make good saves, such as the one that turned behind a Gavin Williams drive in the 24th minute, but the Yeovil efforts were generally struck from distance and at a convenient height for the goalkeeper. Johnson's men did their reputations some good, but they made just a respectable contribution to the lore of this Somerset club.

They will be embraced by the directors at Huish Park primarily for the addition to the bank account that includes £265,000 in television rights alone. For the most part, viewers will have been reflecting on the difficulties of emulating the epic feats of the past.

In the remarkable FA Cup defeat of a renowned Sunderland team in 1949, Yeovil had a right-back, Ralph Davis, who worked in the town's traditional industry as a glove-cutter. Perhaps the visitors were sandbagged by the unknown that afternoon. Yeovil are more professional now, but Liverpool knew what they were dealing with.

A few members of Johnson's side were released after beginning their careers with major clubs. They are accomplished enough but they could not disconcert a Liverpool team sure of its superiority. Even in the first half, when Yeovil were fresh, the visitors ought to have scored after Stéphane Henchoz's weighted pass and Smicer's cut-back in the 40th minute, but El-Hadji Diouf fired wide.

The test of Liverpool came as much from their own insecurities as from the opposition. Though their form has picked up a little, there is still a lot of Anfield angst at the indignity of needing to recalibrate their ambitions. The target now has to be fourth place in the Premiership, with the attendant access to the Champions League, but better had been expected under Houllier.

The manager presses on with all the stoicism he can muster. Milan Baros has still to complete his comeback from a broken leg and Owen was not risked in the husky environment of an FA Cup tie even though his ankle and hamstring have almost healed. Houllier, alluding to the limited means, noted that he cannot risk exhausting his one experienced forward Heskey with overuse.

It will therefore be a comfort if Owen is available for Wednesday's Premiership game at Chelsea. Liverpool are currently hampered by a lack of goalmouth expertise and did not clinch this tie until Kewell went down as Hugo Rodrigues challenged in the 77th minute. Murphy, who had fed the ball through in that move, converted the penalty.

It had been a hard afternoon for Liverpool, but there are no fresh bruises to morale.

Copyright - The Guardian

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