Ekoku dents title hopes

Efan Ekoku put a severe dent in Liverpool's Premiership title hopes at Anfield tonight.
Wimbledon's Nigerian striker had a hand in both goals as the struggling Londoners boosted their hopes of top flight survival.

And it needed a goal from Stan Collymore -- his 15th of the season -- to rescue a point for Liverpool.

The Kop were looking for all three points in the hope of putting the pressure on leaders Newcastle and second place Manchester United but this result leaves Liverpool off the pace although they still have to face Newcastle next month.

The game was not without controversy with Liverpool having three strikes on goal disallowed by referee Gary Willard and the final one, when Michael Thomas hammered the ball home, was hard to fathom.

Liverpool, unbeaten in their previous 17 matches, fielded the same starting line-up for the eighth successive match.

They started well and the first controversial incident came after a flowing move involving Rob Jones and Steve McManaman. Wimbledon defender Dean Blackwell seemed to get to the ball before Robbie Fowler, only for referee Willard to disallow the goal.

Liverpool took the lead after 35 minutes when skipper John Barnes slipped the ball through to Steve McManaman. The finish was clinical, giving him his eighth goal of the season.
Ekoku then scorned a glorious chance of equalising when goalkeeper David James dropped a cross from Mick Harford, the ball falling invitingly but Ekoku sent it high into the crowd.
Wimbledon, whose powers of recovery are legendary, again threatened just after half-time when Mark Wright carelessly lost possession to Mick Harford, who forced James to tough the ball onto the bar and over.

The pressure told however and Wimbledon equalised after 54 minutes when Oyvind Leonhardsen swung in a cross and Ekoku ghosted into space to knock the ball home.

Liverpool were rattled and six minutes later Dean Holdsworth put them ahead after Ekoku pounced on an error from Mark Wright to create the opening.

It was his 15th goal of the season -- and he is now entitle to a new Ferrari if Wimbledon owner Sam Hammam honours a pre-season bet for reaching that target.

That goal came just minutes after Collymore found the Wimbledon net after being released by Fowler, only for the strike to be ruled out. Holdsworth's goal shocked the home fans and they were angry shouts of disbelief when Thomas ran the ball home after being released by Fowler only for that effort to again be disallowed.

But Liverpool eventually equalised and salvaged a point after 68 minutes when McManaman's cross was dropped by keeper Neil Sullivan, Collymore pouncing to knock it home. Liverpool maintained the pressure and their dominance until the final whistle but are now five points behind Newcastle and four adrift of Manchester United.

Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear believes Liverpool can still win the Premiership title even though his side blunted their ambitions tonight. Efan Ekoku was the night's star performer as the Dons eased their relegation worries with a battling 2-2 draw at Anfield.

Steve McManaman opened the scoring for Liverpool only for that goal to be cancelled out by Ekoku and Dean Holdsworth replying for the visitors. Stan Collymore salvaged a point for Liverpool to stretch their unbeaten run to 18 matches -- but they are now five points behind leaders Newcastle and four adrift of Manchester United.

Kinnear said: "There is still plenty of time to go for Liverpool and Newcastle still have to come to Anfield. As far as I am concerned it was a fair result tonight. We have not been in the best of health but are now undefeated in our last seven matches. It was a very entertaining game and I believe we have a realistic chance of staying up."

Liverpool had three "goals" disallowed, the most controversial incident revolving around Michael Thomas who hammered a 20-yard shot into the net after being set up by Robbie Fowler.
Liverpool manager Roy Evans was clearly upset at the goal being disallowed by referee Gary Willard. Evans said: "I tried to speak to the referee about it, but he told me to come back later. The referee made a decision, or rather the linesman did and we have to abide by it whether we like it or not. I didn't agree with it."

Kinnear said: "I asked the referee about it and he said Fowler was standing in front of our keeper. It's probably the bravest linesman we've ever had."

About Liverpool's title ambitions, Evans said: "We are not out of it. We got a bit kamikaze and started to throw too many balls forward. You've got to give credit to Wimbledon. They don't lie down and with their spirit and experience I can see them getting out of trouble."

Copyright - Press Association

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