Tottenham prove too determined
A win for Liverpool yesterday might have taken them to third but they did not look ready for a place at the high table. Anfield's hopes of rejoining English football's elite have improved of late but on a sodden afternoon Tottenham's pursuit of mere middle-class respectability turned out to be stronger motivation.
A firmly struck shot from Chris Armstrong midway through the first half brought Tottenham the victory their better sense of purpose and direction deserved. It was Armstrong's 50th goal for the club, a landmark which would surely have been reached rather earlier had the player accepted more of the sort of chances he missed yesterday.
Had Tottenham not won it would have been a palpable insult to the quality of service consistently provided by David Ginola, whose crossing regularly exposed a Liverpool defence which still has not rediscovered the knack of dealing with dangerous high balls. Ginola's importance to the result was underlined by the fact that for once he was not substituted. This was only Liverpool's second defeat in 13 league games and their first since losing 1-0 at West Ham at the end of November. The absence of Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler, each suffering a recurrence of a recent injury, meant that however neat the build-up their attack was always likely to lack a punchline. But Gerard Houllier blamed the overall performance.
"Being without Owen and Fowler didn't help," the Liverpool manager admitted, "but if you've got a good squad you have to overcome this. The fact was that I didn't recognise the team in the first half today.
"The character we had shown in away games wasn't there. There was an improvement in the second half but we have to admit that Tottenham wanted to win more than we did."
The determination with which Tottenham pursued victory kept the crowd in high optimism from first to last. Overall it was a fast, watchable encounter with Liverpool's patient, precise passing offering a sharp contrast to their opponents' swift, direct movements.
In the absence of Owen and Fowler, Titi Camara became the focal point of Liverpool's attack. His battle of wits with Sol Campbell provided an intriguing contest within a contest and, while the England defender usually had Camara's measure, he was beaten often enough to set up the basis of a Liverpool win.
But the closest Houllier's side came to scoring was in the 35th minute when Camara turned past Campbell and saw a shot parried by Ian Walker. Steven Gerrard, racing in, could only put the rebound into the side netting.
Tottenham: Walker, Carr, Campbell, Perry, Taricco, Young, Sherwood, Clemence, Ginola, Armstrong, Iversen. Subs Not Used: Baardsen, Anderton, Vega, Dominguez, Gower. Booked: Campbell, Clemence, Perry. Goal: Armstrong 23.
Liverpool: Westerveld, Heggem, Hyypia, Henchoz, Matteo, Carragher (Thompson 58), Smicer (Staunton 82), Hamann, Gerrard, Berger (Murphy 73), Camara. Subs Not Used: Nielsen, Song. Booked: Smicer, Matteo, Carragher, Camara.
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester Le Street).