Heskey the fall guy as Giggs piles on the pain
By Tim Rich -The Independent
When asked his greatest achievement as manager of
Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson replied that "it
was knocking Liverpool off their perch".
At Anfield, they would have digested the news that
Ferguson plans another four years at Old Trafford on a
deal worth £4m a year slowly and grimly. Liverpool
show no signs of climbing back up.
They used to say on Merseyside that you could afford to
lose just four matches if you were to take the title
and, well as Liverpool performed in a wonderfully
intense contest, this was defeat number five.
As the November darkness gathered over Anfield, their
manager, Gérard Houllier, confessed that they were now
playing for the fourth and final Champions' League slot.
Even that might take some getting.
"Above us only sky" read one banner draped from the
Anfield Road End, although above Liverpool this morning
are Fulham, Manchester City, Birmingham and Charlton,
not to mention the big three, who from the banks of the
Mersey look as distant and untouchable as Saturn.
Houllier, who took sole charge of Liverpool five years
ago this week, looked genuinely pained. This season,
Liverpool have embraced flair but not, significantly,
luck. Having clawed their way back from two Ryan Giggs
goals, both of which might have been prevented, and been
denied what appeared a clear penalty, Danny Murphy
threaded a pass through to Emile Heskey. The striker,
unmarked in the area, promptly fell over. It was
practically the final kick of the game.
Hard though he works, Heskey is likely to be remembered
at Anfield more for his misses than his goals. In
two-and-a-half seasons, he has managed one goal against
the four teams who this year qualified for the
Champions' League. When he trudged off, neither Houllier
nor his assistant, Phil Thompson, cast a glance his way.
Had the ball fallen to Michael Owen, he would surely
have scored but Owen was elsewhere, resting an ankle
injury which will keep him out of England's friendly
with Denmark on Sunday.
It would have been the coldest of comforts that
Liverpool had pushed Manchester United fearsomely hard.
Ever since his Aberdeen side was humiliated here in the
European Cup in 1980, Ferguson has nursed a fierce
dislike of the club.
But even he was moved to say: "We were more than hanging
on there, it was a fantastic game. It is a privilege to
be involved with these kind of games.
"Liverpool were the better side in the first half and
played with a conviction we did not seem to have, but in
the second half we were more like ourselves."
The match was played at a frantic, compelling pace,
which still allowed for some remarkable slices of skill,
not least when Djimi Traoré took Diego Forlan's cross
from Ruud van Nistelrooy's boots, a tackle equalled by
one from Mikaël Silvestre to dispossess Murphy in the
Sami Hyypia, stripped of the captaincy by Houllier
because he was no longer guaranteed a place in
Liverpool's side, generally kept Van Nistelrooy in
impressive check. For most of the match, the Dutchman
made little worthwhile contribution other than to try to
score with an outstretched hand.
The tackle on Florent Sinama-Pongolle by Rio Ferdinand
as the youngster roared into the area with the new
scoreboard at Anfield which looks like a piece of
digital technology from the Seventies reading 2-1,
was, however, clumsily timed. It happened a dozen yards
from a Kop which echoed with disbelief as Graham Poll
rejected a strangely muted appeal.
Houllier was adamant his side deserved a penalty. "We
should have had that penalty, although I am not blaming
referee Graham Poll.
"He was probably seeing it from a different angle, but I
have now seen it on TV and it is clear to me. At Old
Trafford, I feel it would have been a penalty."
Sinama-Pongolle, a blistering talent from the Indian
Ocean island of Reunion, had created the platform for a
Liverpool comeback with a hard, low cross that Harry
Kewell met with a supremely well-timed volley, which was
only the seventh goal of the season Tim Howard had
conceded. There was a quarter of an hour remaining and
Manchester United did not play it out convincingly.
Nevertheless, the brutal statistic is that not since the
Merseyside derby in August have Liverpool, once so
robotically defensive, managed a clean sheet in the
The first goal they conceded yesterday may have been a
fluke, a cross from Giggs, used on the right flank
against Traoré, that eluded everyone and finished in the
corner of Jerzy Dudek's net, but Houllier thought it
"When you go through a difficult spell, you fear a lack
of concentration from your players and that's what
happened. There were several players at fault, not just
The second, too, was a curious goal; a cross which,
intended for Van Nistelrooy, found Giggs whose shot from
a tight angle ought to have been blocked by Dudek.
Instead, it struck the keeper's boots and ricocheted
into the net via the crossbar.
It was all eerily familiar. Once more, Liverpool had
lost 2-1 to their great enemy at Anfield, once more
Dudek was at fault, and once more the gulf running the
East Lancashire Road appeared unbridgeable.
laments undeserved defeat
Beleaguered Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier
believes that his side didn't deserve a third home
defeat of the season at the hands of bitter rivals
Manchester United today.
The under-fire Frenchman felt that the efforts of his
team should have been enough to earn at least a share of
the spoils in a game ultimately won by a Ryan Giggs
brace before Harry Kewell gave the Reds late hope from a
fine Florent-Sinama Pongolle cross.
Houllier said: "I'm disappointed with the result but not
with the effort and commitment of the players. I thought
we were very good in the first half, we then had a bit
of a dip at the start of the second and came strong
again towards the end.
"We had chances to equalise, we should have had a
penalty, but it wasn't to be for us. The players are
down but I told them we have to keep going and keep
believing in what we are doing.
"We had to play this game just two days after a match in
Romania on a quagmire of a pitch whereas United had an
extra couple of days to prepare for it. It's a pity we
had to play such a big game so soon after a difficult
match away in Europe."
"Despite the results this season I still feel we are
making some progress and some improvements. Of course it
is going to be difficult for us to win the title now -
it's looking like a three horse race for first place -
but we'll keep on going and giving our best. We want to
make sure we get into that top four."
Giggs: We had to
work for win
Matchwinner Ryan Giggs admitted Manchester United
were made to work for the full 90 minutes for their 2-1
win at Liverpool.
Giggs bagged both United goals, with Harry Kewell
pulling one back for Liverpool after 75 minutes.
Giggs said: "We had to fight until the end.
"We know their fans demand they keep going for 90
minutes and they could have had an equaliser at the end,
but it was a great save by Tim (Howard).
"We didn't perform in the first half, we didn't keep the
ball enough, but we came back."
Both Giggs' goals came from the right, rather than from
his more accustomed position on the left.
He added on Sky Sports: "It gives me the opportunity to
cut in more on my favoured left foot.
"I was happy with the goals. It is always important when
the others play on Saturday and we're playing on Sunday
to get a result."
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson added: "We were more than
hanging on at the end.
"It was a fantastic game, an incredible game - and
you've got to give full marks to every player on the
"It's a pleasure to be involved in these kind of games.
"Liverpool played with a conviction we didn't match in
the first half. They had a good start which put us on
the back foot.
"But we played well in the second half - more like
"At 2-0 up we started to play well - but it was a