Championship race approaches climax

Championship race approaches climax

by Chris James of "The Daily Mirror"

If Liverpool cling on to pole position to win the championship on the last lap Kenny Dalglish will be able to claim he did it his way.

Not many managers would have relegated an international of Mark Lawrenson's ability and class to the substitutes' bench - but Dalglish had no hesitation. Gary Gillespie got Dalglish's vote of confidence and he responded not only with his first goal of the season, but also his first ever hat-trick.

A far post header (46 minutes), a simple tap (60) and a penalty taken by order of the Kop (83) did the trick to leave already boomed Birmingham licking wounds they did not deserve. They displayed a sense of freedom and adventure which earned them nine corners, with 19-year old debutant Stuart Storer showing considerable poise in midfield. "We were on a hiding to nothing anyway," admitted Birmingham's transfer-listed Billy Wright, "and once the first goal went in that was it."

That came after 25 minutes when Ian Rush used his knee to glance home Ronnie Whelan's mis-hit volley for his 30th goal of the season. The only other interruption to an afternoon which belonged to Gillespie was Jan Molby's 49th minute penalty after Brian Roberts had handled.

The Kop demanded that Molby stood down when the second penalty was awarded for Julian Dicks' trip on Rush and commanded Gillespie forward to complete his hat-trick. Now it's win or bust for the three remaining runners as the great title chase heads for a photo finish. Neither Everton, Liverpool or West Ham can afford even to draw any of their remaining matches over the next eight days. Everton remain marginal favourites because they have a possible points total with three matches remaining, of 89.

Leaders Liverpool, with two to play and a better goal difference, can reach 88. Outsiders West Ham, with four to play and the worst goal difference can muster 87. The Hammers face a home game with Manchester City tonight and the crunch could come on Wednesday when all three teams play. Liverpool are at Leicester, Everton at Oxford and West Ham at home to Ipswich.

Next Saturday's programme sees Everton home to Southampton with Liverpool and West Ham at Chelsea and West Brom. It could come to a nail-biting finish a week tonight at Goodison when Everton clash with West Ham in the last game of the season. It has become a handicap chase for Everton who look certain to be without midfield dynamo Peter Reid at Oxford. He damaged ankle ligaments in Saturday's goalless draw at Nottingham Forest and spent the weekend in a nursing home.

Goodison boss Howard Kendall said: "We will not know the full extent of the damage until Peter has seen a specialist and the swelling has settled. I think he will be out on Wednesday, but it is very premature to talk about Peter's chances for the FA Cup final."

Full back Pat van den Hauwe also spent Saturday night in a nursing home with a calf injury. Kendall added "It is very painful but not as serious as Peter's injury."

Liverpool have no injury worries as Ian Rush and Craig Johnston are expected to recover from minor knocks. Steve McMahon could also be in contention as his thigh injury continues to improve.

Copyright - Daily Mirror

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