Football: All Yours: Poyet's Spur for Arsenal ; Tottenham Hotspur 1 Poyet 41 Liverpool 0 Half-Time: 1-0 Attendance: 36,017; FA Premiership after Last Year's Treble Triumph, Houllier's Men Are Left to Contemplate a Barren Season as Tottenham Do Their Neighbours a Favour
Hayes, Alex, The Independent (London, England)
Liverpool all but bowed out of the title race yesterday with a disappointing display at White Hart Lane. Gerard Houllier's men now require a minor miracle, most immediately a Bolton win over Arsenal tomorrow night, to stand any chance of lifting the Premiership crown. On recent form, Liverpool fans might as well tear up their betting slips right away.
The heavens opened five minutes before kick-off, prompting those who believe in supernatural omens to wonder whether something significant was about to happen. It was, although few could have predicted how easily Liverpool rolled over. "I think we could have done better," Houllier conceded. "Especially in the second half, the effort was there but perhaps we lacked a bit of sparkle. Maybe there was a bit of nerves out there, too."
The first half-hour aside, Liverpool lacked any real zest or invention going forward. Tottenham, meanwhile, swamped the midfield and played some of their best football of the season. "The players were superb," said Glenn Hoddle, the Tottenham manager. "I don't see many weaknesses in that Liverpool side, but we were just better than them on the day."
Tottenham should have taken the lead inside five minutes. John Gorman, who was wired up with a hands-free mobile phone, looked like an agent from the special forces as he patrolled the technical area taking directives from Hoddle for the first half. The conversation they shared at that moment will have contained mostly expletives. A promising Liverpool attack broke down on the right when Abel Xavier slipped, allowing Mauricio Taricco to steal possession and release Teddy Sheringham in the centre-circle. The England striker then spread the ball out wide to the right wing-back Simon Davies, who rounded Jamie Carragher with ease before delivering a pinpoint cross on to Sheringham's head. The Spurs captain nodded only inches wide.
Liverpool responded and, four minutes later, Danny Murphy floated in a dangerous free-kick which Sami Hyypia rose highest to meet at the far post. The Finn forced an excellent reflex save from Kasey Keller, who continues to keep Neil Sullivan out of the Tottenham goal. From the ensuing corner, Emile Heskey sent a looping header towards the top corner of the net, but this time Taricco cleared his lines.
Liverpool were enjoying the bulk of the possession and the greater share of the chances but, as has so often been the case this season, they were unable to find that all-important early goal. Few can question Heskey's ability, but he rarely manages to alter the course of a match. He worked gamely throughout, yet you could not help but wonder whether Jari Litmanen's clever link-up play between midfield and attack might not have been more suited to this type of close match. Instead, Liverpool stuck to what they do best: namely, sitting back and then breaking at speed. Only once, though, did Michael Owen get a sniff of a chance in the first half, when he latched on to Vladimir Smicer's ball after 20 minutes only to shoot harmlessly across the face of goal. …