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Premiership's still a three-horse race

Robbie Fowler celebrated his 100th League appearance today by keeping Liverpool firmly on the Premiership title trail.

Anfield's prodigious young talent struck his 62nd goal during that spell -- his 30th in all competitions in a season which has seen him emerge as England's finest young striker.

 

Fowler's goal arrived in the 62nd minute and sealed a thrilling victory over a Chelsea side without the inspirational presence of Ruud Gullit, still suffering from a bout of flu.

 

It was just the result Liverpool needed after the midweek draw against Wimbledon and it stretched their unbeaten run to 19 matches. Roy Evans' side are now just two points behind Newcastle, although Liverpool have played two games more.

 

The Kop had to show patience before their heroes had made the breakthrough, the opening goal coming after 53 minutes through central defender Mark Wright. It was only his second goal of the season and came at a crucial time with the fans and the players beginning to get frustrated after a spell of pressure.

 

Evans was forced to make his first change in nine games with Steve Harkness replacing Phil Babb, who picked up a toe injury during the Wimbledon match, but it did little to upset their rhythm. Chelsea keeper Kevin Hitchcock was forced to work overtime in the first half and he did superbly well to turn away a stinging drive from Steve McManaman after Fowler and Stan Collymore had linked up.

 

McManaman, the inspiration behind many of Liverpool's best moves, then released Fowler only for Hitchcock to get his body behind the ball and smother the shot.

 

However, the Chelsea keeper was a spectator when Collymore sent in a rasping 20-yard drive which rattled the bar after he had been set up by McManaman. Hitchcock again came to Chelsea's rescue when he tipped a shot from McManaman over the bar after the Liverpool midfielder had cut inside. The breakthrough came eight minutes after half time when John Barnes delivered a marvellous cross from the left that evaded Hitchcock and Wright, linking up with the attack, headed in at the far post.

 

Liverpool kept up the pressure with Fowler and Rob Jones both having shots blocked as Chelsea began to wilt. Fowler's goal followed another flowing move with Collymore picking out McAteer on the right. The Republic of Ireland international's cross was inch-perfect and Fowler sent a glancing header beyond Hitchcock.

 

Jones, who has played over 200 games for Liverpool without scoring, was anxious to get in on the act and sent a thundering 20-yard shot whistling inches past the post as Hitchcock looked on.

Chelsea will be hoping Gullit recovers in time to face Wimbledon in the FA Cup replay next week. They certainly missed his presence at Anfield and were restricted to counter attacks.

 

Romanian Dan Petrescu squandered a glorious chance, delaying his shot in front of goal after John Spencer had sent the ball into his path. Petrescu then saw a stinging drive turned away by the long legs of James who diverted the ball to safety.

 

James had another anxious moment when Spencer spotted him off his line and delivered a shot from fully 50 yards, only to see it drift inches over the top.

 

Liverpool now have eight League matches left in their bid to take the title and on this evidence of this display it would be foolish to write them off. Liverpool manager Roy Evans, critical of his side after they were held to a 2-2 draw by Wimbledon at Anfield on Wednesday, was a happier man after a 2-0 win over Chelsea kept them in the title race.

 

Goals from Mark Wright and Robbie Fowler -- playing his 100th league game for the club -- stretched Liverpool's unbeaten run to 19 matches.

 

They are now only two points behind Manchester United and Newcastle, although they have played two more games than Newcastle. With eight games to go, time is running out for Liverpool, but Evans is refusing to give up the chase. "It was a good result and I was pleased with the way we went about it," he said. Evans had accused his team of adopting kamikaze tactics against Wimbledon when Wright was responsible for one of the Wimbledon goals, scored by Dean Holdsworth. "Everyone expects us to railroad teams but it doesn't always happen like that," he said. "Sometimes you've got to keep the ball and try and make space. We're in the position of the team who can least afford to drop points. We can only try and win our home games. We were obviously disappointed in midweek but this result means we are still chasing a European place and that is important."

 

Fowler has scored 62 goals in those 100 league games -- and 30 in all competitions this season.

Terry Venables names his squad to face Bulgaria next week and Fowler could not have failed to impress the England coach's lieutenant Ted Buxton, who was at the match.

 

Evans added: "We have a great relationship with Terry and have a lot of players good enough to be in the England team. But it is not up to me to tell them who to pick."

 

Wright made the breakthrough after 53 minutes when he headed home a cross from John Barnes. Fowler's goal arrived in the 62nd minute following a flowing move involving Stan Collymore and Jason McAteer.

 

Chelsea missed the presence of influential Dutchman Ruud Gullitt suffering from flu. Manager Glenn Hoddle hopes he will recover in time to face Wimbledon in Wednesday's FA Cup replay.

 

On today's defeat, Hoddle said: "It was a very tight game and a very tactical one. Up until the first goal it could have gone either way. We felt we had a couple of good chances but if you don't capitalise on them against Liverpool you are liable to be punished."

Copyright - Press Association

 

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