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Len Capeling's column: A return to basics does trick for Reds.

Byline: Len Capeling

SOME sportswriters refuse to abandon their portrayal of Liverpool as a patient urgently in need of remedial treatment.

Even an overwhelming win over an in-form Manchester City failed to impress jaundiced hacks, who saw little to rave about. Functional. Unmemorable. Drab. Not vintage. Less than enthralling. So it went on. Every comment grudgingly given. I wasn't exactly fulsome either. But at least I acknowledged the worth of playing ugly, especially in the continued absence of free-flowing form.

This was Gerard Houllier at his most pragmatic, opting for iron control of the game before seeing what scraps could be hoovered up. It was the old counter-attacking style that Houllier won few plaudits for, even when his side piled up the silverware. All it lacked was a Michael Owen to turn a few of the half-chances into something substantial. Nonetheless, it was a crushing victory that left the opposition powerless. Maybe there's a lesson there.

Maybe Houllier should have stuck with what he believes in: drawing the opposition on to the rocks of solid midfield and immoveable defence, before springing the trap of a lightning-fast forward or two.

Like George Graham, he should have ignored the critics and developed Liverpool at his own pace, and in his own image.

Change should have been more gradual and unannounced. Still based on counter-attacking, but progressivelly spiced up with the addition of a Duff or a Thierry Henry Mark II. If you believe what you're doing is right, stick with it no matter what. Cling on to the functional, that will keep you alive when the battles are at their bloodiest, but introduce flair as evolution, not revolution. Saturday was more like the Liverpool of two seasons ago. Giving the opposition nothing - and then killing them off. It was Houllier going back to basics. No bad thing if the right ingredients are now mixed in. A STRANGE thing happened on Sunday - Uriah Rennie won praise for his refereeing at Maine Road.

Chiefly from the best of the TV commentators, Barry Davies, but also from a thankful caller - not a Liverpool supporter - to Alan Green's lively 6. 06 phone-in on Radio Five Live. Greenie's horse laugh could have been heard in Soho Square, where referees are allowed to believe they're doing a marvellous job despite vile criticism from the media. Uriah Rennie being praised, I don't believe it, said Alan, maliciously adding that in his view the Sheffield official had had a terrible game. There were no arguments about that judgement from a crestfallen Kevin Keegan, who insisted that the penalty award against the tap-dancing Marc-Viven Foe for handball was harsh. At least Keegan admitted he had an agenda: ``I've never liked Rennie, never have, never will. '' ``See if you can get an interview with him, '' said Keegan. ``You'll have to go through his agent, '' he added, as if to say that Mr Rennie was so self-important he needed a representative to handle his media work.

This is the same Mr Rennie who chooses to do his extensive warm-up exercises at the centre of any stadium where two or more are gathered together.

CAPTION(S):

THAT'S MY BOY: Cup match winner Danny Murphy receives the plaudits
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 8, 2003
Words:533
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