West Brom 0, Liverpool 2 (D,Post)
Apr 3 2006
By Carson Wishart at The Hawthorns
PERHAPS what will be most remembered from this high-tempo training session in the Black Country will be a tale of two goal-scoring Liverpool players with potentially differing destinies.
But to borrow a little line from the Clash, the question all Liverpool fans want answering is: Will they stay or will they go?
In the steady middle lane there's the clbutty vintage of a Rolls-Royce striker in the tried and tested Robbie Fowler.
And bursting in the fast lane is the exciting, but temperamental second-hand Ferrari complete with the unlikely sight of gofaster stripes in the form of Djibril Cisse.
The question manager Rafael Benitez will be asking himself today is which one does he want to hitch a lift all the way to the championship title. . . a destination not found in the past 16 years. No-one will quite say it, but it seems that only one will survive a summer re-shuffle at Anfield with the manager keen to have a settled frontline platoon in his armoury.
But sunlit early April evenings like this in the Midlands make it all the harder to determine where exactly the Spaniard's axe will fall in the next few weeks.
Both were instrumental in compounding more relegation misery onto the Baggies with first-half goals which embodied exactly what they offer Liverpool.
Fowler, looking as if he really never had been away, this time he just about beat a linesman's flag - although they were serious doubts raised by Albion manager Bryan Robson - to sweep home from close range inside six minutes.
Nothing spectacular but comfortably rebutturing no less compared to the sporadic touch of genius offered by Cisse, who outstripped the West Brom defence time and time again and found a finish to boot eight minutes before half-time.
The trouble with Cisse is that despite sweetly dispatching his 15th goal of the season, somehow you still wouldn't feel at ease putting your mortgage on him when Premiership afternoons will be no doubt be decidedly tougher than this one.
Some may conveniently argue, too, that the former Auxerre man did himself no favours by producing such an outstanding display on the right-side of midfield, when he clearly sees himself as an out-and-out striker.
Filling the void left by Steven Gerrard's derby-day red mist last week, Cisse potentially showed he could solve one of Benitez's problem areas out wide.
But the manager is seemingly resigned to being unable to convince the Frenchman to take one for the team on a more regular basis and it would be no surprise if another club does come knocking on Benitez's office door in the summer.
The problem is that although Cisse can add an unexpected flash of colour to match his eyecatching hairstyles now and again, Fowler is Liverpool's Ron-seal man in that he does exactly what it says on the tin - score goals.
Such a wonderful landmark 173rd strike in his 341st appearance for the club, which took him past Liverpool legend Kenny Daglish on Saturday, and his second in his second spell with the club catapults him even higher in Anfield's hall of goalscoring fame.
And such is his red-blooded commitment to the club since his surprise move from Manchester City in January, it's certain he will move further up that distinguished list over the coming seasons when a battle of wills is to be fought out with Chelsea and Manchester United for domestic dominance and not forgetting the little matter of re-conquering Europe.
But if Fowler and Cisse really can be compared to super cars in a race to earn a more permanent spot in the Anfield garage, then Liverpool rarely needed them or their team-mates to get out of second gear at the Hawthorns.
As they continue their mission to overhaul Manchester United into second spot they encountered a nervy Albion side who look destined to find themselves making trips to the likes of Hull and Luton next season.
Liverpool's fourth consecutive Premiership victory was perhaps among their easiest as they outclbutted and out-pbutted Albion in the first half before a touch of casualness in the second made this encounter a little more uncomfortable than it needed to be. With Benitez reverting back to a 4-4-2, with Cisse playing more as an orthodox winger than a midfielder, the excellent Xabi Alonso shored up the middle in the absence of the suspended Gerrard with Fowler partnering Peter Crouch up front.
And it only took Liverpool six minutes to capitalise on Albion's understandable edginess as Cisse turned from poacher to provider by latching onto a pin-point pbutt from Alonso, outstripping the hapless Paul Robinson box.
It was the perfect start for the visitors, but infuriated under-pressure former Old Trafford stalwart Robson.
"We gave the ball away dead cheap and they cut through us, but there's no doubt that Robbie Fowler was offside, but we never seem to get decisions like that," he stormed.
And his pain intensified as his side's pedestrian central midfield pairing of Wales international Andy Johnson and Ronnie Wall-work were continuingly bypbutted by some clever pbutting and movement which should have yielded Crouch a hat-trick before half-time.
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The first of his gilt-edged chances came with 12 minutes on the clock as he brought down an excellent John Arne Riise long ball, but, as he was about to fire, Steve Watson thwarted his intent with a last-ditch tackle.
While West Brom briefly threatened to unsettle the applecart, with most of their good work coming from Diomansy Kamara, Crouch was again blocked by Watson after he was sent charging down on goal by Cisse's cunning delivery.
Liverpool were having it all their own way without really breaking sweat and end any home resolve with a second as quick-as-a-flash Cisse picked up a scrumptious 60-yard drive from Alonso to slip the ball past onrushing keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
And there was still time for Crouch to miss chance number three as again Cisse tormented Albion with a 60-yard sprint down the right flank before sweeping past young defender Curtis Davies and landing the ball smack onto Crouch's knee.
As the ball bounced off and flashed wide, the tall man held his head in his hands after failing to anticipate such precision in Cisse's delivery and the young Albion captain's inability to deal with it.
The introduction of Hungarian captain Zoltan Gera in the second half brought some early scares for Liverpool with three piercing efforts - two on the volley - whistling past the bar.
It was just a little warning sign to Benitez's men that the game wasn't quite dead and buried yet and the only blot in the manager's copybook today will be his side's reluctance to repeat some of the magic seen just a few miles down the road from here last month when Birmingham were embarrbutted 7-0 in the FA Cup.
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West Brom added the lack of a spot-kick from referee Uriah Rennie to their list of grievances when Momo Sissoko was shoved into handling the ball by Johnson.
In the meantime, Cisse was given precisely 13 minutes up front to show what he could do before Benitez had seen enough and replaced him with Jan Kromkamp out on the right and Morientes pushing forward.
It was the signal that the manager was happy to stick with what he got.
And after breathing a sigh of relief when former Everton striker Kevin Campbell broke clean through, but somehow conspired to miss, he saw Morientes do likewise at the other end when Harry Kewell weaved his magic all the way to the byline.
The final whistle blew and as, peculiarly, a black bin bag swept across the pitch as the players trudged down the tunnel, you couldn't help but think that Albion were not that rubbish.
It was more a case of Liverpool being just too good.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Kuszcak; Albrechtsen, Davies, Watson (Clement 61), Robinson; Kamara (Gera 45), Johnson, Wallwork, Greening; Kanu (Campbell 61), Ellington. Subs: Hoult, Kozak.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Cisse (Kromkamp 78), Sissoko, Alonso, Kewell; Fowler (Garcia 65), Crouch (Morientes 71), Carragher. Subs: Dudek, Warnock.
REFEREE: Uriah Rennie.
ATT: 27, 576.
NEXT MATCH: Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers, Barclays Premiership, Sunday, 2pm