Stan Collymore marked his Liverpool debut with a wonder winner as the Anfield side raced out of the Premiership starting blocks. The British record 8.5 million pound signing from Nottingham Forest had been well-shackled by the Wednesday defence, with new boss David Pleat's decision to go for a five-man backline looking as if it might pay dividends. But any fear that the fee would become a millstone around Collymore's neck was dispelled just after the hour, when he brilliantly worked room before rifling in from 25 yards. There was nothing even the impressive Kevin Pressman could do, with Collymore setting off on a dance of delight as the ball hit the back of the net.
And after that the Reds relaxed, with only a brilliant save from Pressman denying Steve McManaman a second as Liverpool showed their championship challenge was not mere paper talk. Before the start, Collymore had bowed in tribute to the Kop, but while Liverpool - without John Scales and Neil Ruddock at the back - began with plenty of possession, they created few real chances.
Ian Rush, preferred to Robbie Fowler as the new boy's partner despite the 20-year-old's 31 goals last term, headed narrowly wide from a Collymore centre, but it was Wednesday veteran Chris Waddle who caught the eye. A sublime pass to set Graham Hyde away on the right was the opening salvo in a first-half masterclass of tricks and vision, and although sweeper Julian Watts did clear one Rush effort off the line, Wednesday were rarely tested.
Collymore did look sharp when he received the ball, but that was not often enough, and Liverpool were mainly restricted to long-range efforts, all of them from Jamie Redknapp. A free-kick turned aside by Pressman was followed by an audacious crack from 35 yards that bounced off the bar with the keeper beaten, and the midfielder was only inches too high with another strike.
But Wednesday's neat interplay was creating more real opportunities. David James had to parry a Dan Petrescu shot into the side-netting and then it needed a desperate clearance from Phil Babb to prevent Waddle providing Mark Bright with a sitter. And the danger was not over. Mark Pembridge, making his debut, picked out the unmarked Watts from the resulting corner, and Rob Jones cleared by the left-hand post. Just before the break, Waddle was a fraction outside the upright with a dipping volley that had James scrambling across his goal, but Liverpool were a different team after the restart.
Pressman made superb stops to tip over thumping efforts from Redknapp - again - and Steve Harkness, but there was nothing he could do when Collymore took centre stage. There seemed little danger when Redknapp played the ball into him surrounded by three defenders 35 yards out. But in a split-second, Collymore somehow worked space, and with the Wednesday defence backing off, curled the perfect left-footer around Pressman and into the corner. Anfield rose in joy, Collymore's team-mates racing to smother the striker in a near-orgy of congratulation that showed they realised how much the moment meant.
Pleat sent on David Hirst for Ian Nolan and then Andy Sinton for the tiring Waddle, but the tide had turned decisively in Liverpool's favour. Pressman somehow denied McManaman after a beautifully weighted pass from John Barnes, and then Collymore might have planted home another, his right-footer just too high. With nine minutes left, Fowler came on for Rush, and then Collymore himself departed the fray to a standing ovation, Michael Thomas coming on. The day was already his.
Collymore admitted the taunts of the Sheffield Wednesday fans had sparked him to begin his Liverpool career with a stunning winner at Anfield. The British record 8.5 million pound signing from Nottingham Forest had been relatively quiet until he picked up the ball from a Jamie Redknapp pass just after the hour. In a trice, he had left Julian Watts for dead before striking a brilliant curler beyond the reach of Kevin Pressman to spark scenes of pure joy on and off the Anfield pitch. And the striker revealed: "I had a shot early on and the Wednesday fans were chanting 'What a waste of money'. It had the right effect, because it made me want to do better and to score a goal like that on my debut was a dream for me."
Collymore was paired with Ian Rush rather than Robbie Fowler up front, and said that he already believed the combination was going the right way. "I'm pleased with the way it's working with Ian," he said. "You can only learn from playing with someone like that and the ovation I got at the end was fantastic. It's always nice to score, whether it's a tap-in or a long-range shot, but it couldn't have gone much better."
Liverpool boss Roy Evans added: "It was a stunning goal, but it was always going to take something like that. We'd had plenty of possession, although we were finding it difficult to get behind them. But that's the extra dimension Stan offers. He'd been kept pretty quiet, but they gave him a bit of space and he was prepared to try the ridiculous - and the ball ended up in the net."
Wednesday boss David Pleat conceded Collymore's goal had been a touch of brillance, although he criticised his defence for making it possible. "You've got to say that Collymore wrote the script when he scored a goal like that. It was just incredible," said the new Hillsborough chief. "But I felt we should have got a challenge in. The execution was excellent, but we should have made a challenge. It only takes a second - but we gave him that second."
Pleat, without 1.5 million pound Belgian striker Marc Degryse, added: "We showed some promising signs, but we didn't really look like scoring. We lacked that cutting edge."
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