Football: Thomas turns the ignition for Liverpool drive
IT IS a slow process, hampered by Bruce Grobbelaar's manic performance in Moscow, but Liverpool are well on the road to renewed prosperity, with four wins and just that one European defeat in their last six games.
Norwich arrived at Anfield yesterday needing one point to return to the top of the Premier League at Blackburn Rovers' expense. They had a glimpse of all three when Ian Butterworth drove them ahead after only 65 seconds, but the vision was as fleeting as a mirage, Liverpool hitting back hard for their best win of the season.
Norwich did themselves no favours by missing a penalty, Mark Bowen belting the ball high into the Kop, but the award was a nonsensical one and it would be nice, if naive, to think that Bowen rejected it.
The decision was one of many poor ones by Ray Lewis, who seems to be getting up a petition. This most acquisitive of referees found it necessary to add five more names to the six he booked at Leeds last week, cautioning Liverpool's Steve Nicol and four Norwich players - Butterworth, Rob Newman, Jeremy Goss and Chris Sutton. Norwich, of course, have a terrible reputation for such things. They are rumoured to have had someone sent off in 1937.
Liverpool were without Ian Rush, who might have had a field day, and Rob Jones, both injured in midweek, and the dropped Mark Wright.
Grobbelaar, who might reasonably have been expected to join Wright on the bench, was grateful for the reprieve Graeme Souness put down to the need for all the experience he could muster. Fair enough, although quite how that squared with having Wright and Paul Stewart among his substitutes was anybody's guess.
The Kop were still assuring their goalkeeping eccentric that all was forgiven when he was beaten again.
Barely a minute had elapsed when Torben Piechnik's dithering let in Mark Robins, and Grobbelaar had to turn the ball behind with his foot. The resulting corner produced more from the Keystone Kops manual of defending, Butterworth's firm, bouncing shot going in via Mike Marsh, the crossbar, and the goalkeeper's back.
It was a body blow, but Liverpool took it well, came punching back, and were ahead after 20 minutes with two handsome goals which gave Anfield the rare sight of Michael Thomas at his best.
Hit by a succession of injuries, the dynamic midfielder has found form as elusive as fitness since his pounds 1.5m move from Arsenal last year, but here was the Thomas of old, driving in the equaliser from the edge of the D after 14 minutes, then providing the perfect cross for Don Hutchison to head in the second, six minutes later.
Norwich might have drawn level with their penalty, but Steve Nicol's challenge on Chris Sutton was innocuous in the extreme, and justice was done when Bowen lifted the kick over the bar.
Norwich were removed from contention, seven minutes into the second half. Liverpool's third put them out of reach, David Burrows cracking in a fearsome 25-yarder from Jamie Redknapp's short free-kick. Mark Walters' last-minute penalty, conceded by Ian Culverhouse, made it Liverpool's best win of the season in the League in terms of statistics, as well as merit.
Liverpool: Grobbelaar; Marsh (Wright, 68), Burrows, Nicol, Piechnik, Hutchison, McManaman, Walters, Rosenthal, Redknapp, Thomas. Substitutes not used: Stewart, James (gk).
Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Butterworth, Polston, Newman, Crook, Phillips, Robins (Fox, 62), Goss (Sutch, 62), Sutton. Substitute not used: Walton (gk).
Referee: R Lewis (Great Bookham).
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