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Reds duo celebrate call-up

Sensational Steve McManaman ended Leeds' dream of a Wembley double with a stunning brace to help earn Liverpool their 19th FA Cup semi-final appearance.

 

The England striker was at his irrespressible best as he ran at Howard Wilkinson's Coca-Cola Cup finalists from the outset, causing palpitations throughout the sixth-round replay.

 

And it was fitting that a day which began with talk of two other Liverpool men who had found a place in England coach Terry Venables' thinking -- Robbie Fowler and Mark Wright -- ended with a player who has yet to really make his international mark.

 

Roy Evans' side, who now have an Old Trafford date with Aston Villa on March 31, had dominated territorially, without turning their abundance of possession into tangible reward. But McManaman changed all that with two superb efforts in the space of 16 second-half minutes.

 

The crucial opener came when Stan Collymore chased Fowler's pass down the Liverpool left before finding Rob Jones, who in turn fed McManaman 20 yards out. Leeds stood off, a hesitation that proved fatal, as McManaman took instant aim and exploded a left-footer which flew past John Lukic at his near post. And it was the 24-year-old who made sure there was no way back in the 73rd minute when he exchanged passes with Fowler and coolly slid home his 10th of the campaign.

 

But Fowler was not to be outdone on his own big day, claiming his 31st of the season -- equalling his previous best haul -- with a brilliant 25-yard free-kick which left Lukic for dead eight minutes from the end.

 

After that it was a case of playing out time, with Leeds -- paying the price for their Elland Road caution -- thinking of Sunday's Twin Towers date and Liverpool contented with a job well done.

Leeds had returned to a more familiar look ahead of their Wembley date, with Tony Yeboah and Gary McAllister back among four changes from Sunday's draw with Everton.

 

But a surprise was the appearance of Gary Speed, who had missed seven games with a fractured cheekbone.

 

Liverpool also had an unexpected face in their team, with injuries to Phil Babb and Steve Harkness meaning a recall for Neil Ruddock alongside Wright. But while Leeds again matched Liverpol's three centre-back policy, the game was a world removed from the Elland Road shocker.

 

With McManaman influential both down the left and moving inside, the Reds looked potent, although Fowler, fed first by McManaman and then the strong-running Jason McAteer, failed to test Lukic.

 

Yeboah, fed by Brian Deane -- again preferred to Tomas Brolin -- drilled wide from the edge of the box and then, when he was set to pounce on McAllister's weighted ball, was robbed by a superbly-timed Mark Wright tackle.

 

At the other end Collymore's looped pass looked to have put Fowler in, Lucas Radebe snaking out a foot to nip the ball away, but both sides were looking to get forward, although were trying too many speculative shots from long range.

 

And if Speed, dancing past Wright and John Scales, had not been tackled by last man Ruddock, Wilkinson's men might have gone in front, although a late lunge by the already booked Ford on Jones might have cost him dear, Dermot Gallagher opting for a final warning.

The second half saw the home side step up a gear, forcing the pace but at first lacking real conviction in front of goal.

 

Ruddock, running 30 yards at a retreating defence, saw his cross-shot stick between Radebe's feet, Fowler bobbling his shot at Lukic, and then two surging McManaman runs finished in disappointment.

 

But all that was forgotten as the tracer bullet left McManaman's left foot 12 minutes into the second period, Wilkinson reacting by sending on winger Andy Gray for Ford.

 

It meant that Leeds had to push forward more, leaving them open to the McManaman-inspired counters, and Collymore, fed by Fowler and turning Nigel Worthington inside out, was only denied by Lukic's long right arm. But Lukic was only delaying the inevitable, a fact confirmed when McManaman, with so much space and time, steered home low past Lukic's left hand.

 

And after John Pemberton had brought down McAteer, Fowler stepped up to signal an early departure for the few fans who had crossed the Pennines. They knew their team had been well beaten.

 

Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson conceded his side had been destroyed by the FA Cup brilliance of Steve McManaman as Liverpool strolled to a semi-final date against Aston Villa. The England winger, inspirational from the outset, put the Anfield side en route to their 19th appearance in the last four by crashing home a stunning left footer 12 minutes into the second period.

 

McManaman then exchanged passes with England new boy Robbie Fowler before steering in his 10th of the season with Fowler himself setting the seal on Liverpool's night with a superb free-kick strike.

 

But Wilkinson, whose men meet Aston Villa in Sunday's Coca-Cola Cup final, admitted McManaman's one-man show had killed off his side's hopes of a double Wembley date.

"We had two problems all game, said Wilkinson. "The main one was McManaman but the other was that we couldn't keep the ball up front. I said at half-time that McManaman was the only problem they were causing us up front. He had a lot of shots, and a lot of dribbles and even though he missed with a few he kept coming back for more. The first two times he got behind us he scored. I put Mark Ford on him one to one and was thinking about switching it and asking Gary Kelly to do the job but I don't think it would have made any difference. I can't say that he was unplayable but we'd done pretty well in keeping them quiet."

 

Wilkinson's praise was a mark of the respect he had for McManaman's display.

McManaman himself was more modest about his achievements: "I had 58 shots tonight," he said. "It's about time one of them went in. We had to be patient just as we were against Chelsea on Saturday. We got the result then and we did the same tonight."

 

Liverpool boss Roy Evans echoed Wilkinson's glowing testimonial for McManaman's display.

"Some of his shots were off target but it was the type of day when it was difficult to make space, just as we expected it was going to be. There are times when you can't stop Steve and tonight was one of those. We didn't make enough from what he was doing in the first half but as he showed on a good day he can be fantastic and is also prepared to do the mundane stuff if necessary."

 

by Martin Lipton of "Press Association"

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