Mac knifes Arse

by Martin Lipton of "Press Association"

Steve McManaman struck twice in six second half minutes to put Liverpool back on the winning trail and make Arsenal pay for their lack of attacking intent. Caretaker boss Stewart Houston's plan of stifling the life out of the game looked to be paying off as Roy Evans' men endured a frustrating first hour.

But then fate took a hand as Steve Bould's attempt to block McManaman's weak left-footer only succeeded in leaving previously unemployed David Seaman flat-footed. That chance had been created by John Barnes and, with McManaman now starting to turn on the style he had shown for England this summer, he appeared to have repaid the compliment in the 74th minute with a back-heel that put the skipper in on goal. Seaman showed he has lost none of his Euro 96 reflexes with a great parry to deny Barnes, but even he could do nothing as the ball fell perfectly onto McManaman's left foot again for the England man to steer it into the gaping net. Houston tried to alter the complexion of the game by sending on Ian Wright for John Hartson, but there was no way back for the Londoners for all the skill displayed by Dennis Bergkamp.

And it could have been worse as Liverpool broke free from their shackles late on, Robbie Fowler going close to following his hat-trick exploits of the last two seasons with another goal. Yet the final scoreline, and Liverpool's final dominance, had not really appeared possible in the opening 68 minutes.

Fowler's recent shootings down of the Gunners had brought Anfield hopes of an astonishing hat-trick, but that never seemed likely to happen as Arsenal, for all their off-field uncertainties, established a strong defensive grip. Martin Keown, Andy Linighan and Bould refused to give the home strike-force an inch of room and, for all Liverpool's possession, Seaman has rarely had an easier first 45 minutes.

He plucked the ball off Stan Collymore's head in the fifth minute after a Ray Parlour miskick had caused alarm, yet that was as tough as it got for the England goalkeeper. Long distance efforts from Collymore and Arsenal old boy Michael Thomas were tame and unthreatening, while McManaman's runs meandered into nowhere and, while Evans' side forced 10 first half corners, they never looked like breaking through.

Not that Arsenal -- still without David Platt and Tony Adams as well, of course, as a manager -- were much better, although Bergkamp's talent and vision hinted at better things, one juggle and volley proving there was class on the pitch. Liverpool attempted to pick things up after the interval, Collymore's acrobatic volley dropping the wrong side of the crossbar and only Bould's cunning easing Fowler off a great John Barnes cross.

But still Seaman was untroubled before Bould's inadvertent touch turned the game utterly.

Suddenly, McManaman's runs were full of belief, Arsenal struggling to cope, and the second goal killed them off.

Evans could even afford to take off Fowler and Collymore before the end, sending on Lee Jones and teenage debutant David Thompson. Two goals were more than enough.

Steve McManaman showed few signs of a Euro 96 hangover with a scintillating 15 minutes which killed off Arsenal at Anfield tonight. The Liverpool and England winger had suffered the frustrations of his team-mates in the opening hour as managerless Arsenal kept a tight rein on McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore. But 22 minutes from time, the winger, fed by John Barnes, saw his weak left-footer deflect off Steve Bould to leave David Seaman helpless.

That was the cue for a mesmerising few minutes as McManaman wove his magic, claiming his second goal of the night when Seaman could only parry a Barnes effort into his path.

Liverpool boss Roy Evans admitted: "In the first half, Steve was getting free but his final balls into the box weren't good enough. We thought perhaps he wouldn't produce for us, but then he had a 15-minute spell when he was phenomenal."

McManaman himself admitted fortune had favoured him with the opener. "I suppose I should claim it, but it took a deflection off Bouldie," said McManaman. "I just controlled it from John and then hit it, and although it was a good first touch the deflection gave David no chance. For the second goal, I cut inside and gave Barnesy the ball with my back-heel as I saw him coming in round the back. David made the save but it bounced lovely for me to put it in the net." McManaman admitted: "The first half was very hard and we didn't get many opportunities as Arsenal defended very well. But the gaffer told us to keep going, and that's what we did."

Evans added: "It isn't easy to play again so quickly after the Middlesbrough game on Saturday but I was really pleased with our effort. The way we closed them down was fantastic, even when things weren't going our way and, although I didn't think we would get the bounce of the ball, we stuck at it and got what we deserved."

Arsenal caretaker boss Stewart Houston was adamant the first goal had totally altered the complexion of the game. "Goals change games and, until the first one was deflected in, we were well in the match," he said. "David Seaman didn't have a save to make in the first half. It was always going to take something a bit unusual to beat the England goalkeeper and that proved the case."

While Frenchman Arsene Wenger's expected coronation as new Highbury chief still seems some way off, Houston, who also experienced the caretaker's role after George Graham's abrupt enforced departure, said the situation was not affecting his players. "I said to them afterwards their attitude, commitment to the cause, resilience and resolve had been excellent tonight. At present, what may happen with the manager is down the line. We are only concentrating on the next few days' training or the next match. Now we must be prepared for Leicester at the weekend."

Copyright - Press Association

Press' Liverpool man of the match awards

The Daily Mirror :Steve McManaman (9/10).
The Liverpool Echo : Mark Wright.
90 Minutes : John Barnes, Steve McManaman, Dominic Matteo (8/10).

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