Thursday 23 March 2017

Brown shows true colours to upstage Reds' costly outfit

Of all the new boys on show here, it was an old one who most caught the eye, the 31-year-old Wes Brown. His Manchester United roots earning the opprobrium of the Liverpool faithful, Brown calmly and quietly demonstrated why Sunderland could have made one of the signings of the summer.

Fitness is always a concern with Brown, who has a long association with the physiotherapist's room following injuries to knee and ankle, as well as the inevitable wear and tear of 341 games spread over 13 years at United and 23 caps for England. If he can avoid further damage, Brown could prove a rock in Steve Bruce's defence, particularly if he repeats the type of performance that saw him largely subdue Andy Carroll. A four-year contract was generous, but with a fee reported around £1m it could be a masterstroke by Bruce.

"He rolled back the years,'' said the Sunderland manager of Brown's display. "For me he is arguably one of the best natural English centre-backs we've had. He's not played, been injured and with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic doing so well we've managed to get him.''

With Phil Jones and Chris Smalling the Old Trafford heirs apparent at centre-half, Brown clearly knew his opportunities would be limited. "He's been fit since last February but this was his first competitive game since that time,'' Bruce added.

Brown made one mistake, conceding the free-kick that Charlie Adam delivered for Luis Suarez to give Liverpool the lead. Such was their early dominance before fading, Kenny Dalglish's side should already have been ahead by then as Suarez (pictured below) missed a penalty after being fouled by Kieran Richardson.

Sunderland enjoyed a double escape as Richardson should have been dismissed. Suarez was about to score. No question.

Like Brown, Seb Larsson also impressed on his first outing, rising unmarked to equalise with a wonderful acrobatic volley following Ahmed Elmohamady's cross, and exploiting a momentary lapse of concentration by defender John Flanagan.

Liverpool's debut-making foursome had mixed fortunes. Adam did well, all tackles and passes in the centre, and could form a strong midfield three with Lucas and Steven Gerrard when the captain returns. Stewart Downing was intelligence personified first on the left, then right and then in the hole. Jose Enrique was steady at left-back. The real concern was Jordan Henderson, who failed to impose himself on the right.

"It's important to remember that he's only 20,'' said Bruce, Henderson's former manager. "He will be a very, very good player. He's risen in two years. He can only get better as an individual because he wants to do well so give him time.''

Carroll could have done with better service from Henderson but the striker rightly appealed for patience for Dalglish's evolving team. "It is going to take everyone a little while to get together,'' Carroll said. "It is a big stage. But all the lads are happy with the way things are going.''

Saturday showed that Liverpool will need time to develop their new look. For Sunderland, Brown looks more than ready. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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