RED DAY MISERY FOR BLUES
Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea
Darren Steward reports
David Thompson's third Liverpool league goal ensured that Chelsea's wretched Anfield record continued in a niggly game that saw both the visitors' French central defenders, Frank Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly fail to finish the game, one injured, one dismissed.
Seven bookings were issued and Dennis Wise also saw red as referee Mike Reed treated us to a colourful display of card mayhem.
The close range effort, a 25-inch blast one might say, was only the second goal the men from Stamford Bridge have conceded in seven games, and means they have only one Anfield win in 64 years to their credit.
Gone are the days of Liverpool being odds-on favourites to win home games. Some of the betting for this one put Liverpool at 7/4 with Chelsea even money.
Gianluca Vialli cut a forlorn and frustrated figure at Anfield three seasons ago as his efforts for Ruud Gullit's side came to nothing in a 5-1 defeat, but last season the Blues had come so close to taking all the points and never did the form book point more to a second Chelsea win in 65 years in front of the Kop. His side were 5-0 victors over Manchester United and at full strength for the match.
A packed Anfield was encouraged by a brisk opening start by the home side, Vladimir Smicer and Danny Murphy combining well before the the former Crewe man hit a snapshot over the bar.
Moments later, David Thompson and Smicer again caused moments of consternation within the Blues rearguard, but the kickout from Ed de Goey found Albert Ferrer. His sweeping cross exposed the home defensive frailty and Gustavo Poyet should have done better with the header.
Chelsea were starting to put their foot on the ball and, ominously periods of Liverpool possession were becoming shorter. Babayaro and Zola were linking well and causing problems down the left.
Poyet caused problems again, and constituted a menacing figure. Stephane Henchoz cleared acrobatically as the goal-happy Uruguyan threatened. Liverpool's best hope seemed to be the effort and drive of Danny Murphy who was giving Frank Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly plenty to think about.
We were then treated to some wonderful play from Zola, who tricked Henchoz and found Wise nearpost and unmarked. The 'pocket-sized nemesis of the Hackney cab' steadied himself but blazed over Brad Friedel's bar.
Jamie Redknapp grazed the Chelsea bar with a free-kick from fully 35 yards after Desailly's handball near Murphy was yellow-carded. Zola might have done better when a loose ball fell to him fifteen yards out, but Liverpool's burly American stopper gathered comfortably.
Liverpool took the lead in the 49th minute. A Steve Staunton free-kick, conceded when Leboeuf had felled Michael Owen, caused confusion and David Thompson pounced from close range.
If Chelsea were genuine title contenders, their mettle and response was under scrutiny here. Wise had a half-chance that he dragged wide, but the game was degenerating into a foul-littered brou-ha-ha.
Staunton was lucky to stay on after kicking the ball away, Michael Owen should have recieved at least a yellow for a late challenge on Leboeuf that led to the Frenchman hobbling off. The clock was ticking and Vialli's frustration was growing. He replaced Zola with Tore Andre Flo in a last throw of the dice.
Marcel Desailly was sent off for a last man challenge on Michal Owen. It was referee Mike Reid's third dismissal in two games after he officiated the West Ham v Arsenal fixture. The Reds' boy wonder fluffed the gift, however, and put the resultant spot-kick wide of the target.
Ten-man Chelsea nearly equalised when Flo broke clear, put through by Wise, but his angled shot was well parried by Friedel. The visitors pressed belying their numerical inferiority impressively, the passionate words of their Italian coach at half-time.
But more agony was to follow for Chelsea. Wise, who had been prepared to take it as much as give it all afternoon, was dismissed for a spat with tall Dutch Liverpool striker, Erik Meijer, on for the tiring Michael Owen. Still the Blues pressed. Lambourde had a header saved, but the visitors were leaving gaps as wide as Sydney Harbour at the back.
Redknapp flashed a shot wide, when a more unselfish choice may have resulted a goal. The crowd, eager for only their second win at home this season bayed for the whistle, which duly came to the horror and desperation of Vialli. The former player-manager was producing enough heat to boil a million kettles on Merseyside all afternoon. But for the dismissal of half of his French foreign legion, he may have taken something from this game. Sacre Bleu!
Liverpool: Friedel, Henchoz, Song, Hyypia, Staunton, Carragher,
Smicer, Redknapp, Murphy (Heggem 80), Thompson,
Owen (Meijer 86).
Subs Not Used: Matteo, Camara, Nielsen.
Booked: Staunton, Redknapp, Murphy, Thompson.
Goals: Thompson 47.
Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu (Lambourde 74), Babayaro, Leboeuf (Le Saux 64),
Desailly, Deschamps, Poyet, Wise, Ferrer,
Sutton, Zola (Flo 68).
Subs Not Used: Morris, Cudicini.
Sent Off: Desailly (73), Wise (88).
Booked: Desailly, Sutton, Leboeuf, Lambourde. Att: 44,826
Ref: M Reed (Birmingham).