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Superior interest at stake

Superior interest at stake

by Clive White of "The Times"

 

Liverpool have been accepted, finally, as the great entertainers of the English game. They have overtaken Manchester United as the biggest crowd-pullers in the country, a fact they underlined on Saturday by again attracting the largest crowd of the season - in Charlton's case, eight seasons - to the home of their opposition to watch their 24th undefeated League performance. But for how long will the public flock to watch them?

 

At what point does such brilliance and, most crucially, superiority, cease to be an attraction? Part of Manchester United's beauty, even in the golden era of Best, Law and Charlton, was that they were not unbeatable. But one cannot imagine that that first defeat, when, or if, it should arrive, will add to Liverpool's charm.

 

The trouble is that Liverpool are just too good or, to be more precise, too good for the opposition. Great teams, like great boxers, need worthwhile adversaries to sustain interest. Liverpool's demolition of Charlton was, after the first goal, as much of a no-contest as Tyson's defeat was of grandfather Holmes.

 

It was ominous, I thought, that the Liverpool supporters, sated with success over the years, could barely raise a cheer. How badly they need their team to be beaten, preferably more than once. It is a paradoxical fact that Anfield's attendances went up when the title moved across Stanley Park to Everton three seasons ago - just as they have done this season following Everton's success last year. Spectators have been locked out at seven of their 11 League games at Anfield this season.

 

Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, looked almost embarrassed after victory No. 19, like a Monopoly player who cannot stop collecting bonuses. A remark of Bob Paisley's, that the quality of the first division was poor, put Dalglish on the spot, but he neatly side-stepped all questions relating to the point with the agility he once demonstrated against lunging defenders - and perhaps still demonstrates after revealing that he made a rare appearance for the reserves in a 4-1 victory in midweek.

 

Charlton, who are a better side than their 21st League position indicates, made a game of it for half an hour. In that time, MacKenzie and Campbell had shots competently saved by Hooper, who was preferred to Grobbelaar, and a wayward header by Hansen presented Jones with half a chance which he declined to take. Frankly, it was as much as they could have hoped to see of the Liverpool goal. After those moments of possibility Charlton had as much chance of penetrating the opposition's defence as they had of breaking into Fort Knox.

 

When Charlton themselves succumbed it was, typically, a stroke of good fortune which put Liverpool in possession. A shot by McMahon came back off the corner flag to Barnes, who shimmied to create an opening for a shot which, in turn, came back off a defender for Beardsley to collect his fifth goal in four games.

 

To the observer, the pressure looked steady rather than relentless though not surprisingly, perhaps, the Charlton defenders saw it differently. "It was a case of barbed wire, building a dam and hoping for the best. They come towards you like a tidal wave," Thompson, the Charlton central defender, said. "They had 13 player out there, I'm sure. Before the game we thought we had a chance, but after the first goal we realised we didn't. To beat Liverpool you need them to be 80 per cent efficient and yourselves 120 per cent with a lot of luck."

 

The second goal was quite unneccessary on both the part of Charlton and Liverpool.

After what Barnes had already done to them, it was suicidal to leave their right flank so exposed. But with so many troublemakers to contend with you could hardly blame Charlton. A typically fast break of great gusto by Houghton had them in a panic and, when Barnes received the ball in isolation, there was little that the belated arrival of Thompson and Bolder could do. However, Barnes' feint to the left and shot with his right foot was no mean feat. At least it relieved the boredom as did another dazzling Barnes run in and out of four players.

 

Lennie Lawrence, the Charlton manager, looked considerably happier in defeat than Dalglish did in victory, but that does not say very much. He was delighted that Liverpool had helped to set record receipts and with a crowd of 28,095 had beaten their best in recent years, that against Watford in an FA Cup tie four years ago - "when Barnes also turned us inside out." Lawrence also took some solace from the impressive performance of MacKenzie, who looked to be back in the sort of form which had established him as an outstanding prospect as a youngster. "He looked as though he would not be out of place in the Liverpool team," Lawrence said. That sounded dangerously like tempting fate to me.

 

Copyright - The Times

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