Liverpool never really tested

 

LIVERPOOL settled for a gentle Sunday morning stroll in Shropshire as they dismissed the lightweight threat of second division Shrewsbury in the fourth round of the English FA Cup.

Roy Evans' team are still a round behind their major rivals in the race for a place at Wembley in May and while the rest contemplate the prospects yielded by yesterday's sixth-round draw, they will now have to play Charlton in round five at Anfield a week on Wednesday.

They can expect that game to be a much tougher challenge than the one they faced at Gay Meadow, where Shrewsbury's hopes of a giant-killing to match their 1979 beating of Manchester City were virtually strangled at birth by Stan Collymore's eighth-minute goal.

But Liverpool took too long to build on their early boost and not until the latter stages of the game did they reproduce a semblance of the ruthlessness that destroyed Rochdale 7-0 in round three.

Indeed, they briefly threatened to succumb to a bout of early second-half Shrewsbury pressure, before luckless Dave Walton's own goal gave the Premiership aristocrats some welcome breathing space in the 70th minute.

Walton turned a Phil Babb header past his own keeper and then compounded his anguish five minutes later when he gave the ball away on the edge of the box to Robbie Fowler, who rounded keeper Paul Edwards and practically walked in his 26th goal of the season.

It was not until four minutes from time that Jason McAteer finished off a more Liverpool-like goal after Collymore and Steve McManaman had provided the build-up.

Shrewsbury deserved credit for a plucky effort in this twice-postponed tie, but for long periods their quartet of self-confessed Liverpool fans could only stand and admire the slick passing of their idols.

The pre-match minute's silence for former Liverpool boss Bob Paisley, observed with admirable respect by a 7,752 crowd, seemed to extend into the game itself as Liverpool achieved an immediate stranglehold.

But the penetration they produced with Collymore's 11th goal of the season from McManaman's astute through pass was rarely repeated.

Fowler mis-kicked a tempting opportunity from another McManaman pass to keep Shrewsbury in the game but when the home side had their best spell in the first 20 minutes after the break, it only served to illustrate how much they missed injured top scorers Darren Rowbotham and Dean Spink.

Walton's own goal 20 minutes from the end allowed Liverpool the luxury of a two-goal cushion and it was probably as well for the home side that there was so little time left after that.

Fowler was the last man the unlucky Walton would have wanted to give the ball to so close to goal five minutes later for goal number three and the match was long over as a contest when McAteer efficiently drove home the fourth.

Liverpool goalkeeper David James often had to watch some slapdash defending in front of him but even the most partisan Shrewsbury supporter could not remember when he was seriously troubled during the entire 90 minutes.