Gerrard rides to the rescue against Watford
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An awful game but Watford will not care. The second leg of this Carling Cup semi-final is still very much alive, and Vicarage Road will have its big game in a fortnight.
The blustery wind did not help but the conditions could not excuse a dreadful performance from Liverpool. That's the problem with taking the League Cup seriously: it brings embarrassment into the equation. Liverpool could not have complained had there been an upset last night. Their form continues to swing between the very good and the very flat. It will take more than Fernando Morientes, who now looks likely to arrive from Real Madrid, to energise Liverpool in this mood. Their demeanour was lethargic and their passing hesitant, while the two Spanish wingers, Luis Garcia and Antonio Nunez, seemed as purposeless in the wind as the confetti that swirled around Anfield from the 6,000 travelling Watford fans.
If those fans arrived with optimism, by half-time they were bordering on ecstasy. Watford may lie 16th in the Champion-ship but they were at least Liverpool's equal in the first half, and, had Hameur Bouazza not snatched at a volley when a Paul Devlin cross arrived at his feet on 17 minutes, and Brynjar Gunnarsson headed straight at Jerzy Dudek moments later, they could even have had a lead.
Only Steven Gerrard, elegant and energetic as ever, rose above the dross, and it was no surprise that it was he who rode to the rescue and put Liverpool ahead 11 minutes into the second half. Milan Baros had been left on the bench to protect his hamstring ahead of Saturday's match against Manchester United but, released in to the action after 53 minutes, he chased a through-ball into the left corner. Paul Jones clawed it away from Florent Sinama-Pongolle but Gerrard, arriving late in the box, manoeuvred himself around the ball and calmly side-footed it home, despite the efforts of Neil Cox on the line.
Even then Liverpool hardly settled, and Heidar Helgusson might have snatched a last-minute equaliser had it not been for a fine challenge from Djimi Traore. Liverpool would expect to progress but this tie isn't over.
Meanwhile, the slim prospect of Liverpool and Everton football clubs sharing a stadium was finally ruled out yesterday. Liverpool city council said both had formally rejected the idea of sharing Liverpool's planned £120m stadium.
* The travails of Scottish rugby since the professional era began a decade ago have reached a crisis point following the resignation of David Mackay as Scottish Rugby Union chairman. Mackay resigned this week after a vote of no confidence from the SRU general committee, and since then three members of the union's executive board have quit in protest at the vote. Yesterday, the influential Premier Forum, a body set up to further the cause of Scottish clubs, warned the SRU that a breakaway by clubs could result from the turmoil. Kenny Hamilton, the Premier Forum secretary, said: "We need to keep the sport integrated but if, because of the way the game is being managed by the governing body, it [a breakaway] may have to be considered." The discord stems from a row that has been simmering for months between Scottish clubs and the SRU executive, with clubs fearing a loss of policy-making power to the governing body. But Hamilton added: "I have yet to find an individual or a club who feels that the problem in Scottish rugby is David Mackay, and for them to say they are acting on behalf of us as clubs in forcing him out is unbelievably patronising."
* Matt Dawson's international exile was ended on Tuesday when England head coach Andy Robinson named the Wasps scrum-half in his elite player squad. Dawson, 32, a member of England's World Cup winning side, was removed from the England set-up in September after Robinson took exception to his decision to miss a training session in order to honour commitments with the BBC's A Question of Sport programme.
But Dawson's form for Wasps has made his claims for a recall impossible to ignore. Dawson's team-mate Phil Greening has also won a recall to the elite squad in the hooker slot.
* Martin Broughton, British Horseracing Board chairman, has proposed a statutory contribution scheme to fund racing. He wants all bookmakers and betting exchanges to provide money to pay for the sport, replacing the current levy system. The levy is due to be abolished in 2006 and the racing authority had planned to fund the sport by selling data rights to the betting industry. But that idea was thrown into turmoil after the European Court of Justice found against the board last November. The court ruled that bookmaker William Hill had not infringed the board's database rights by publishing runner and rider information on its website.
Broughton said: "We will be proposing the introduction of a contribution to racing by betting operators. That is, a contribution to the cost of putting on the racing show - which we suggest should be 10 per cent of gross profits for bookmakers and at an appropriate equivalent level for betting exchanges."
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