Nigel Clough marked his Liverpool debut with two goals after Wednesday were rocked by Carlton Palmer's sending-off. Graeme Souness' summer signings, 2.275 million pound Clough from Nottingham Forest and 2.5 million pound Neil Ruddock from Spurs, both proved an instant hit with the home fans in a bumper 44,000 crowd.
Clough turned neatly on Steve Nicol's pass after 39 minutes and hammered a fierce shot in off the underside of the Wednesday crossbar. Two minutes after the break Ruddock headed down powerfully from Stig Bjornebye's corner and when Chris Woods fumbled the ball on the line, Clough reacted instantly to stab home from close range.
England midfielder Palmer had been shown the red card after just 12 minutes following a lunging late tackle on Liverpool's Danish midfielder Jan Molby. Until that incident Wednesday had dominated the early exchanges, with Palmer almost grabbing a goal in the first minute when his shot deflected off Ruddock for Bruce Grobbelaar to catch over his head.
Ruddock and central defensive partner Mark Wright gave England 'keeper Chris Woods his hardest first half tests, Ruddock with a 35-yard power drive and Wright with a near post header. A misplaced Ruddock defensive header saw Paul Warhurst volley just wide for the Yorkshiremen in the second half, and when the striker did find the target with a header Grobbelaar tipped the ball over with a fine one-handed save.
Clough was almost put in for his hat-trick by Ian Rush, shooting just wide under pressure from Des Walker, and then heading over from a Mark Walters cross.
Wednesday were denied what looked like a clear penalty after 78 minutes when Warhurst went down over Grobbelaar's outstretched legs. Clough almost grabbed that elusive third goal a minute from time, skipping past a defender's challenge only to see Woods somehow scramble his shot wide.
England midfielder Palmer could be out of the crucial World Cup qualifier against Poland next month following his sending-off. Manager Graham Taylor was at Anfield to see the lanky Sheffield Wednesday player dismissed. Palmer could now face a three-match ban - which would threaten his chances of playing against Poland. Wednesday boss Trevor Francis refused to criticise referee Gerald Ashby over the sending-off incident and television evidence backed the Worcester official's judgement that Palmer deserved a red card for his wild, late lunge on Molby.
"Liverpool were the better team and deserved to win," said Francis. "When you play 78 minutes with 10 men it isn't easy in normal circumstances - but playing a team who pass as wellas Liverpool do on the first day of the season with players struggling for their fitness we did as well as could be expected. My initial reaction was that after 12 minutes of the game a sending-off was a bit severe. I would have no complaints at all about a booking but if the referee thought it warranted a sending-off I'm not one to argue. It obviously had a huge bearing on the game. Carlton is bitterly disappointed and when you've worked for five weeks in pre-season building to this game it is disappointing for him and the team when it happens like that."
Liverpool boss Graeme Souness refused to comment on the incident beyond confirming that Molby suffered a "thump above the knee".
And on Clough's two-goal debut he said: "He is the one who will grab the headlines but it is all about what we do as a team."
Clough's fellow Anfield new boy Neil Ruddock said of the striker: "He is always sharp around the box. Playing against him he has always been a tough opponent, so having him in our side is a great bonus. I think Brian Clough will be happy with his young man."
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