Redknapp rescues Liverpool

 

A late free-kick superbly taken by Jamie Redknapp gave Liverpool a point yesterday but, sadly, the game had an unsavoury footnote when their joint manager Gerard Houllier confirmed that two players, believed to be his captain Paul Ince, booked during the game, and Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux, had been involved in a fracas in the tunnel after the final whistle.

"I do not wish to name the two men, but they play together in the England team," said the Frenchman. "It is all part of the charm of the game.

"Sometimes they elbow each other and the two players involved play together in the national team," added Houllier. "We know that they are fierce competitors but it was nothing serious."

The incident is unlikely to land either player in trouble with the Football Association because referee Graham Poll claimed he did not see anything. "We understand it was no more than `verbals' between the two," said a Liverpool spokesman.

Chelsea have never taken to the Anfield experience but there has rarely been a better time to cause trouble in Liverpool's back yard and history may well record that the decision to opt for the joint stewardship of Houllier and Roy Evans came to pose questions rather than provide answers for a team which still seems determined to hone the tradition of under-achieving. But at least Redknapp denied the London side their second League success at Anfield in 39 visits.

For once the local bookmakers tempted fate, for although the Italian striker Pierluigi Casiraghi had displayed the cutting edge of a butter knife since his summer arrival from Lazio, odds of 9-1 against him scoring the opening goal seemed improbably generous. On his last visit to Anfield Casiraghi had scored twice for Italy against Russia in a European Championship game; clearly he has taken to the place.

He was, naturally, helped by Liverpool's defence, the Premiership equivalent of the ozone layer. Roberto Di Matteo's lofted pass from deep fell behind the back line but in front of recalled goalkeeper David James and before he could choose between moving backwards or forwards, between throwing himself down and remaining upright, Casiraghi had taken the ball wide of him and scored. The Anfield faithful were moved to jeers. It was a goal that brought warm praise from Casiraghi's boss Gianluca Vialli, who has spent much of the last two months defending his compatriot's honour.

"Casiraghi was playing really well, was working hard, doing a lot of things for the team. Unfortunately he couldn't score," he said. "Now, after what happened this afternoon I hope he will be in the scoresheet more often."

Liverpool's natural instinct is to pour forward in great numbers but having dispensed with that tactic yesterday they could unearth no viable alternative. Their first-half football in particular was wretched, a coalition of atrocious passing and thoughtless running.

They spent so much time back-tracking in the hope of keeping a finger wedged in the dam that they did not threaten Chelsea's goal until the interval was almost upon them, Redknapp's free-kick grazing the foot of a post.

As the clock began to run down Liverpool's work rate improved but that was more to do with their decision to actively hunt down the possession they were being denied than with any discernible change in the quality of their play.

Liverpool simply knocked the ball long and high, a curious manoeuvre to employ when your two forwards, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler, are small in stature and noted for the variety of their groundwork.

By the 64th minute the pair had been joined by the substitute Karlheinz Riedle who had been on the field barely 60 seconds when he succeeded in pouring petrol on the flickering flame of Liverpool's attempted revival.

As he chased a loose ball inside an overpopulated penalty area, Riedle fell or dived under the challenge of Frank Leboeuf.

Anfield awaited a penalty but Poll suspected some German amateur dramatics and added the dissenting Riedle's name to his growing collection.

The fateful flaw in Chelsea's make-up could prove to be the collective arrogance of so many pampered egos. They thought they had won, they thought Liverpool would give up. But they did not.

Just seven minutes remained when they drew level, Redknapp's low free-kick bursting through the Chelsea wall and wide of the goalkeeper Ed De Goey, who was flat-footed after moving the wrong way.

Liverpool: James, McAteer (Heggem 56), Carragher, Babb (Matteo 24), Bjornebye, Leonhardsen (Riedle 64), Redknapp, Ince, Berger, Fowler, Owen. Subs Not Used: Staunton, Friedel. Booked: Babb, Ince, Redknapp, Matteo, Riedle. Goals: Redknapp 83.

Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu, Leboeuf, Desailly, Laudrup (Lambourde 90), Casiraghi (Flo 69), Duberry, Le Saux, Di Matteo, Ferrer, Zola (Poyet 60). Subs Not Used: Hitchcock, Newton. Booked: Petrescu, Duberry. Goals: Casiraghi 10. Att: 44,404.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).