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Old habits die hard as Reds sit back on the lead at Anfield.

Byline: IAN DOYLE

AFTER a week in which their manager was involved in an unsavoury public spat, it was left to Liverpool's players to do the talking on Saturday.

And while a third successive win with the efficient disposal of Leicester City suggests the Reds can still have a major say in the Premiership this season, Gerard Houllier's side must first rediscover how to express themselves fully at Anfield.

It was at home that their Champions League bid foundered last season,and it has taken until their third outing this campaign to notch a first success on their own turf.

And the unnecessary angst caused by Marcus Bent's last-minute consolation underlined the nature of what was a sporadically encouraging performance from Liverpool.

Given their recent flops at Fortress Anfield,any criticism should possibly be tempered by the Reds' relief at finally yielding full reward from a home fixture for the first time since April. But against Micky Adams' fighting Foxes, Liverpools old and new were evident in equal measure.

The new came in the first half when,for the first 25minutes, the Reds gave their visitors the runaround. Charged by consecutive victories at Parks Goodison and Ewood,and backed by a roaring Kop, Liverpool successfully brought their new- found attacking form back home.

With Harry Kewell prompting, El Hadji Diouf foraging,Vladimir Smicer probing and Michael Owen roaming, theLeicester side were bewildered and bedazzled by the range of passing and movement off the ball from the home side.

But when the goal did come, it owed much to the good refereeing of Mark Halsey -yes, you did read that right -who, after Owen was felled outside the area,allowed play to continue with Smicer subsequently being impeded inside the penalty box for a stonewall penalty.

Owen stepped up, sent Ian Walker the wrong way, and the foundation for a comprehensive home win was set.

And then Liverpool stopped. Inconceivably, the high tempo, intelligent,incisive game which was threatening to batter Leicester into submission quickly fell away and the visitors were allowed to play their way back into the game. The roar of the home crowd became a whimper,mirroring their team's attacking threat.

Old habits die hard,and while no one can realistically expect an instant about- turn in minds et from Houllier and his men, the sooner they stop sitting back on leads at Anfield the better.

There's a time and a place for those tactics -and as was proven on too many occasions last season,it isn't at home against the likes of Leicester.

Picky? Perhaps. But if Emile Heskey had not cleverly clipped home Diouf's cross 15 minutes from time,Bent's last-minute blast would have become more than just mere consolation -and fingers would have been pointing once more.

The fallout from the Battle of Blackburn has given another chance to Heskey and, while the striker took his goal well on Saturday,maybe someone should tell him that for all his excellent defensive work, his priority is to be more of a danger in the opposition box than his own.

Diouf,meanwhile, showed again why he has been Liverpool's finest performer so far this campaign, but the final ball is still lacking.

Kewell too appears to have found his feet, tellingly once moved out to the left flank.

The real test of Houllier's offensive philosophy will come when his side suffer their next setback. Rewind to last year, when late lapses allowed both Newcastle and Birmingham to snatch draws at Anfield.

That time,Liverpool quickly reverted to safety first, reaching the nadir at Middlesbrough which sparked their worst run of top-flight form for 50 years.

By sticking to his guns this time around,Houllier can continue to give Reds fans something to shout about.

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TOMORROW'S DAILY POST... Read Mark Lawrenson's column
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 22, 2003
Words:636
Previous Article:Houllier: Our play is more confident.
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