Watford get first points at Anfield

 

Gerard Houllier is sufficiently experienced, long in the tooth, to be fully conversant with what most people will concede are the very special demands which the English Premiership makes of its managerial elite.

The Frenchman's decision to embark upon an unprecedented spending spree during the summer recess was born not of Gallic adventure, nor acquired Scouse mischief, but of simple necessity.

Common sense, along with every Liverpudlian on every Liverpool street corner, had told him that his squad just wasn't good enough. He asked for money to rectify the situation, and after a brief courtship with the Granada Media Group money was duly provided. Plenty of it, too: £24 million in total.

However careless, however unnecessary, one isolated defeat means very little in the grand order of things. Unless, that is, you happen to be the manager at a club where the punters have foolishly chosen to overlook the fact that the basis of any long-term success is initial patience.

Houllier is well prepared for most things but one suspects he had not anticipated the voracious, predatory nature of those he now serves. Liverpool's refashioned team were jeered to the echo early on Saturday evening after permitting Watford to collect their first ever points at Anfield.

There can be no doubt that Watford fully deserved an opening Premiership win, but even the acceptance that their final margin of victory should have been more emphatic could do little to suppress the suspicion that there will be much desert and only a few oasis for them in the months ahead.

When asked if he had enjoyed the occasion, the first tangible evidence of his return to the big stage, Graham Taylor's contentment was such that he appeared to melt into his chair.

"Oh yes," he purred, with the air of a man who is still chasing both vindication and the absolution of past sins. "We have been described as Premiership fodder so we have to prove people wrong. When you are the favourites for relegation - we are, and I really don't have a problem with that - a result like this is good for morale."

Watford worked tirelessly and sensibly, always playing to their strengths. On Saturday that strength was an ability to isolate and then punish the continued frailty within a Liverpool defence which will benefit from the imminent return to fitness of Stephane Henchoz. With the left-back Dominic Matteo playing as if he wished to move from the first team to the condemned cell which Houllier has prepared for the nearly departed, Watford moved everything down their right and prospered.

"I did not recognise my team today, said Houllier. "We just did not show the strength and the solidity which we have been showing. We were not compact enough and we were not first to the ball." That was true. Watford usually got to the loose balls first, most tellingly in the 16th minute when Tommy Mooney clipped home a soft goal after those in red shirts seemed almost to queue up to decline the chance to clear the ball.

Had Houllier tuned into Radio 5's 606 phone-in as he headed home he would have been reminded that, for even the most respected of foreign guests, time is in desperately short supply.

LIVERPOOL: Westerveld, Matteo, Hyypia, Carragher, Heggem (Song 81), Berger, Redknapp, Gerrard (Thompson 57), Smicer (Riedle 62), Fowler, Camara. Subs Not Used: Staunton, Friedel. Booked: Thompson.

WATFORD: Day, Lyttle, Kennedy, Palmer, Page, Robinson, Ngonge (Foley 69), Hyde, Mooney, Johnson (Easton 52), Williams. Subs Not Used: Gudmundsson, Bonnot. Booked: Page, Mooney. Goals: Mooney 14.

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).