No need to fear the Scousers


Two good reasons exist for having no cause to feel overwhelmed by the threat from tomorrow’s visitors Liverpool.

Gary McCallister has long since retired as a player and Graham Barber, for the same reason, won’t be refereeing.

At the Stadium of Light on Saturday Feb 10, 2001, the two men combined to turn a one-nil home win into a draw.

The ease with which Barber allowed himself to be conned by a spectacular piece of theatrics by McAllister will never leave the minds of those who witnessed one of the worst penalty decisions made at the ground.

The Liverpool midfielder had eluded Stanislav Varga and, though a long way out, was clearly in a dangerous position. Sensing he had no hope of catching him, Varga opted for a trip.

From yards outside the box, McAllister launched himself into a dive that took him soaring gracefully through the air and, if memory serves me, brought him down still on the edge of the penalty area. A slither on the wet pitch did the rest and he shuddered to a halt well inside the box.

Tring’s other refereeing Graham felt no need for hesitation. Whether simply cheated by McAllister, or as an act of genuine admiration for his audacity and style, he pointed to the spot.

In truth, Varga was the last man should probably have been sent off. But the free kick would still have been eminently defendable – it was, after all, a long way from the goal – and we could have adopted kick-it-anywhere tactics for the remaining 11 minutes of the game.

It would not have affected our final position. Two more points for us would still have left us seventh, after Chelsea, and Liverpool would have clung on to third place on goal difference.

But I will never tire of reminding McAllister, Barber and anyone else who cares to listen of the scandal of that equaliser.

Our record at home to Liverpool since then has been mixed. A one-nil defeat in 2002 – when we were in decline and narrowly escaped relegation while they were runners-up to Arsenal – was followed a 2-1 win for us when we became the worst-performing Premiership side (2002-2003) and a 2-0 defeat when we did badly enough to beat our own unwelcome record in 2005/2006.

They’re a good side, and fancied, but so were Spurs and we saw them off. It will be tough, and there will obviously need to be a massive improvement on last Saturday’s awful showing at Wigan, but as Roy Keane says, while we start as clear underdogs, a win is not beyond us.

And just to show that Salut! Sunderland may have a long memory but holds no grudges, let me repeat what was said about Graham Barber on the PFA website when his imminent retirement was being discussed:

Q Finally, Graham Barber who is leaving but for different reasons?
A He is only 45, unlike the other two who have reached 48 which is when it is mandatory to retire. Graham has a good business opportunity and he has decided to take it. He has had a glittering career and has a cupboard full of medals to show for it – from Super Cup to the FA Cup. He has a fitness regime which he has stuck to it.

Yes, we’d have taken a winner from SuperKev had Hutch made a similar dive in injury time. McAllister, a likeable enough character whenever I’ve seen him on the box, did no more than most modern players, given the chance and the ability. And yes, footballers commit howlers every bit as shocking as Barber’s, week after week.

But it’s more fun to bait bad refereeing errors.

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