Emotional farewell to goalscoring legend

Anfield said an emotional farewell to legendary Liverpool striker Ian Rush today to add a special poignancy to what was otherwise a typically tame end of season encounter against Middlesbrough.


34-year-old Rush, who leaves Liverpool on a free transfer after the FA Cup final, was given a guard of honour from both teams as he ran on the pitch and threw his number nine shirt into the Kop crowd during a lap of honour at the final whistle.


Rush could not find the goal a bumper 40,000 crowd were praying for in his final home half hour as a second half substitute for Robbie Fowler, to add to his astonishing tally of 345 goals in 15 Anfield seasons.


Liverpool finally broke the deadlock after 70 minutes when John Barnes pushed a through ball into the congested penalty box and it broke invitingly for Stan Collymore to drill home a fierce left-footed shot.


Middlesbrough had hardly been seen as an attacking force until then but could have snatched an equaliser in the closing stages, notably when Neil Cox's shot bounced off the inside of the post to be cleared by Neil Ruddock with seven minutes remaining.


Rush was given a hero's ovation when he came on and came agonisingly close to scoring with his first touch, keeper Alan Miller pushing Steve McManaman's low shot just beyond his prowling lunge.


Then Rush brushed McManaman aside in his eagerness to pounce and drill a fierce shot just over the bar and into his beloved Kop.


In a forgettable first half Collymore tried his luck with couple of early shots from distance and was denied after 35 minutes by a fine block by Boro skipper Nigel Pearson following a slick exchange of passes with McManaman.


Left-back Rob Jones, still looking for his first goal for Liverpool, had a couple of useful long range efforts well saved and Fowler struck a 25 yard free-kick straight at Miller.


Things improved after the break, Ruddock almost scoring with a header from McManaman's cross that hit the post. Pearson was injured in a painful collision with the same post as he tried to cover and went off to be replaced by Phil Whelan.


Then it was Jamie Redknapp's turn to hit the post with a pile-driver of a shot from fully 30 yards.

Liverpool's veteran striker Ian Rush said tonight that the reception he was given after his final home appearance would live with him forever.


The 34-year-old Welsh international who leaves on a free transfer after the Cup final threw his red No.9 shirt into the Kop during a lap of honour at the end of Liverpool's 1-0 home win against Middlesbrough -- during which even the away fans chanted his name and stood in salute.

"It was an emotional day but also a fantastic day for me," said Rush. "I had no idea of the reception I was going to get until Roy Evans told me before the game. It was a great surprise. The reception I got will live with me forever. I'm sorry I didn't score -- I had a great chance but I caught the ball too well. Sometimes you just try too hard to score. The fans were willing me to score and I wanted to score as much as they wanted me to. I wanted to stay on the pitch forever. I didn't want to come off -- but I now have to look for the future. Liverpool have a great future with some great players around. I'm not going to make up my mind until after the Cup final, when I will sit down with my family and decide what I will do. I have a shortlist in my mind but at the moment I don't know where I'm going."


Of the Boro fans he said: "It was great when their fans chanted my name as well -- it was a mark of respect. I got as much enjoyment from them singing my name as the Liverpool fans."


Boss Roy Evans said: "It was pleasing to end our season at Anfield with a win. It would have been nice to have put the icing on the cake if Rushie had scored. He has been a fantastic servant. It is difficult to add to the accolades he has had over the years. We are so pleased to have had Ian Rush here for so long. He has got three games left and four if there is a replay of the Cup final. You never know in this game. Stranger things have happened than he might end up playing in the final."


Evans said the game had ensured Liverpool's place in Europe and added: "We are reasonably pleased with that. There is always a slight feeling at this stage that there was a chance we could have won it but over the season we've been pretty good. We are certainly very watchable and that should give us the thought that next year we can take it on further. We have shown we are capable of being as good as anybody but we've got to put that together over the 38 games. We have been as entertaining as anybody."


Boro assistant manager Viv Anderson said the salute of the visiting fans was typical of them and that they had been "phenomenal" all season. Added Anderson: "Ian Rush deserved it -- he's been a fantastic player for Liverpool."


He revealed that injured skipper Nigel Pearson had needed 11 stitches in a head wound after colliding with a post. "The post needed four," joked Anderson.

Copyright -"Press Association"


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