Arsenal 1 - 2 Liverpool
The task of bringing Manchester United to within touching distance had caused Arsenal and Liverpool to perform as if consumed by first-night nerves. And no one was more riddled with them than the 8 million striker with the reputation for failing to live up to his grand billing.
Collymore, who had wasted two great opportunities in the opening half, pounced after 50 minutes when Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman, back in the side after a six-game absence, spilled Stig Bjornebye's shot straight at his feet.
There were no doubts about the authenticity of the breakthrough, courtesy of Collymore's 15th goal of the season. But Highbury was incensed in the 64th minute when Collymore's partner Robbie Fowler was adjudged to have been brought down by Seaman when racing through on to Mark Wright's slide-rule pass.
The Arsenal players surrounded referee Gerald Ashby - Ian Wright had to be pulled away for his own safety - but the decision stood and though Seaman parried Fowler's spot-kick, Jason McAteer was the quickest to respond and placed the rebound beyond the goalkeeper's grasp.
Arsenal pulled a goal back in the 78th minute, as ever the product of Wright's opportunism. Substitite Remi Garde played the ball into the area, Dennis Bergkamp nodded it down and Wright had stolen in between two defenders to lob it over the stranded James.
It was so different from the opening half when it seemed neither side recognised how few games there were left to play in this contrary season and had been wastefully indulgent, as if they were happy that United would win their fourth title in five seasons without so much as a spirited challenge.
The task of bringing Manchester United to within touching title distance caused Arsenal and Liverpool to perform as if consumed by first-night nerves.
There aren't enough games left for these two sides to play for in this contrary season for them to perform with the wanton indulgence they displayed on a drizzly North London evening.
Profligacy ruled at Highbury in an opening half when Liverpool's Stan Collymore alone had enough opportunities to have won half-a-dozen games at any level. All along, this has been a Premiership season of stumbles, calamities, challenges, rising and falling in equal, indiscriminate measure. United, with one eye on the biggest prize of all, the Champions League, have been the one side to keep body and soul intact.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger conceded the championship a month ago, only for his side to win their last three games and manoeuvre themselves - just like Liverpool - closer to United than they had any right to be. But, maybe, the manager's words and his team's response were simply an illusion.
Liverpool are fantastic one day, fallible the next and though they had been beaten only once in their last eight Premiership games - winning twice on their last four visits to Highbury - they have yet to look the complete part.
A single goal has usually won it for them here. How they didn't leave the field at half-time more than a couple to the good could only be worked out if you were able to unravel the complexity that is Collymore.
Very few players in the Premiership generate the enigmatic reviews of this 8million striker who, in his way, encapsulates the team for which he plays.
The reason why Roy Evans remains unconvinced despite his massive outlay was evident in a display of finishing which, in the space of nine first-half minutes was the very epitome of wastefulness.
When asked about Collymore and if he understands him, Evans replies that it's as difficult as understanding your wife. The inference being that just when you expect them to do one thing, they go off and do completely the opposite.
Collymore has never hidden his contempt and treatment he's received from all of his clubs, none of whom have seemed to be on his wavelength. The Liverpool fans have never failed to show their appreciation of this wandering minstrel but those who travelled south must have been as frustrated as anyone on Liverpool's bench.
The first shot of the night might have been Arsenal's - David Platt's volley fired straight at David James - but it was Liverpool who were more succinctly into their stride and after six minutes Fowler left Scott Marshall tackling thin air, fed Steve McManaman and the ball was rolled into Collymore's path, a good two yards beyond the last line of Arsenal's defence. A second's hesitation was enough for Martin Keown to show the sense of occasion which has pre-empted his recall into the England squad.
There was nothing so convincing about the build-up to Collymore's next chance. Platt's attempt at a back pass fell lamentably short and the Liverpool striker was through again - the ball on his notoriously weaker left side - and it was Tony Adams who put him off his stride and caused Collymore to miscue embarrassingly.
It was not Platt's evening. The former England captain has begun to play like someone running for the bus and not quite grabbing the pole on the platform before it pulls away. He was again a yard short and gifted possession to Fowler whose ambitious chip from 25 yards floated a couple of feet over Seaman's crossbar.
There was always the threat that Arsenal, in the shape of the captivating Dennis Bergkamp might be able to get at Liverpool's back line. But, much as he has done in recent matches, Norwegian Bjorn Kvarme covered colleagues who had been dragged out of the defensive areas to keep the threat at bay.
Even he was not there after 36 minutes when the excellent prospect, Stephen Hughes, released Wright with an audacious, outside-of-the-foot pass, Bergkamp pulled off his marker but contrived to screw his right-footed shot over the crossbar.
(extracted from the Daily Mail)
Last Updated: Tuesday March 25, 1997 07:24:35 -0500
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