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Football: Macca: I will sweat blood for the reds.

COVENTRY 2 LIVERPOOL 1

STEVE McManaman has vowed to play his heart out for Liverpool despite agreeing to a summer move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.

McManaman, who came off the bench at Highfield Road to score a late goal in this defeat, was quick to rubbish talk that in light of his multi- million pound move he no longer had any motivation to play for his present club.

"I'm a Liverpool lad and my best friends are at the club, what else do I need to motivate me?

"I love Liverpool and as you can imagine the last 24 hours have been hectic to say the least.

"I spent Friday night in a hotel trying to take everything in. As yet I've not even managed to speak to the manager at length about my decision and I would like the opportunity to talk to him before I say too much.

"This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make and, despite what people say, money was not the motivating factor.

"I made it clear early on that I wanted the opportunity to play abroad.

"Obviously this is a great chance for me at Real Madrid, but nonetheless it's not been an easy decision for me. But I am still a Liverpool player until the end of the season - and I desperately want to do well for them.

"I want to leave with something to show - I really hope we go on to do well this season."

Yet McManaman feels Liverpool are not making it easy for themselves in their outside bid for the title.

"Obviously it was nice to come off the bench and score here, but when you look at the other results - Villa and Leeds both losing - we really should be taking advantage."

McManaman was one of a number of players watched by Glenn Hoddle and insisted he was ready if called up by the England coach for next week's clash with France.

"I love playing for my country and despite the injuries I feel very fit - I'm quite a lean lad.

"Therefore if I'm selected I feel I am more than capable of doing a job. But obviously my main priority at the moment is to regain my place in the Liverpool side, so I have to take one step at a time."

Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier refused to criticise McManaman for finally deciding to quit the club.

Talking about the move for the first time, the Frenchman said: "It wasn't unexpected. Steve had always maintained that he wanted to move abroad and I have to respect that.

"Emotionally we will miss him because he's a Liverpool lad, and needless to say as a player you can't fault him because he has immense ability.

"I will have to replace him, it's my job to go out and find another Steve McManaman."

The Liverpool winger aside, Houllier was none too impressed with a lethargic Liverpool display that dented their title aspirations.

"I felt sorry for the fans who had made the long trip down here," insisted Houllier.

"I cannot excuse the performance and when we make errors like we did for their goals we will pay for them. I regret that once again we have created our own problems."

Liverpool, with only the League to concentrate on after their unfortunate Cup exit at Old Trafford last weekend, made a slow start.

Coventry, on the other hand, opened brightly, forcing a succession of early corners.

Half-chances went begging early on for Darren Huckerby and Trond Soltvedt, while Dominic Matteo did well to deflect Paul Williams' goalbound effort.

The Reds were largely disappointing and were lucky to survive a scare when David James raced from his goal, lost his footing and was relieved to see Huckerby fail to hit the target with an open goal at his mercy.

Liverpool remained firmly on the back foot as Coventry continued to press. But 14 minutes from the break they should have taken the lead.

Jamie Redknapp delivered a 40-yard pass to the feet of Patrik Berger but with just Magnus Hedman to beat, he shot woefully wide of the mark.

Three minutes from the break Michael Owen caught sight of goal for the first time in the match. But his shot, which sailed high and wide, was testament to a disappointing first half for the visitors.

Two minutes after the break Huckerby almost opened the scoring. Evading three challenges on the edge of the box, he cut inside, but shot wide of the far post.

Liverpool responded with a quick-fire attack. Berger's measured pass found Owen and from the edge of the penalty area he could only hold his head in his arms as his shot came off the bar.

Coventry's response was clinical and in the 60th minute they deservedly took the lead.

Steve Froggatt swung in a cross from the left, James misjudged the ball and George Boateng headed home.

City pulled forward in search of the second goal and in the 73rd minute they increased their lead when Boateng crossed from the left and Noel Whelan delicately chipped the ball over James.

Twelve minutes from time it should have been three but after Whelan had fed Huckerby he shot tamely at James.

In the dying minutes Liverpool eventually began to play and substitute McManaman gave them some hope with a goal four minutes from time. But it was all too little, too late as Coventry hung on for a deserved three points and a result that has almost certainly ruled the Reds out of the title race.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 31, 1999
Words:932
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