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Ward to make amends

IT WAS the kind of game where there was no hiding place. Live on TV, 42,000 fans in the stadium, on one of the busiest days of the football calendar.

Not the kind of place you want to get the first red card of your career but last month that's what happened to Wolves' Irish defender Stephen Ward. More than six years after he made his debut in senior football with Bohemians, Ward was making his first appearance at Anfield, but didn't see out the game as he was sent off before the hour-mark for a second bookable offence.

It was a costly error, as his side went on to lose a game they could have won had he stayed on the field. And the timing was all wrong, as Ward had only weeks earlier claimed back his place in the Wolves defence after a three-month absence due to a knee injury.

A controversial one, too, as the referee initially, incorrectly, showed the yellow card for a trip on Liverpool player Lucas to one of Ward's team-mates, but corrected himself and brandished a second yellow to Ward, but only after he was alerted to his error by Liverpool players, keeper Pepe Reina making a special effort to make the ref aware.

"It's nice to have a game against Liverpool come around so soon after the last one, which for obvious reasons was not a good game for me or for the team. Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, these are the games you want to play in, and Liverpool at home was always going to be a big game for us. But I suppose it's even bigger now, given what happened when we played them at Christmas," Ward told the Herald ahead of tonight's rematch with the Reds.

"You always like it when the big guns, or the so-called big guns, come and play you on your home patch, so we're all looking forward to the game now.

"We've only had two league games since we last played Liverpool so it's come around again quickly and it's a good chance for us to take them. That was the plan when we played them at Anfield, to take them on and match them and I think we were doing that until I got sent off. I got the red card, they took the lead within a couple of minutes, then got a second goal after that and won in the end, but we felt we could get something at Anfield.


"It was hard to take for me at the time as that was the first red card of my career -- hopefully the last as well," says Ward, who joined Wolves from Bohemians in January 2007.

"When we looked at the tape of the game, we all thought the second booking was very soft, that the lad (Lucas) had gone done very easily, but it was one of those things, you see it nowadays, it doesn't take much for a defender to get a yellow card in the modern game. Maybe I need to learn from it and be a bit cuter, I have to try and learn from it," added the Portmarnock native.

"It wasn't easy at the time, especially when you saw some of the Liverpool players running the length of the pitch to make sure I was booked. And the ref made a call: if he had thought it was me initially I don't think he'd have booked me as he knew I was already on a yellow and it might have been harsh to send me off for that; it was fairly innocuous.

"But when he booked Christophe Berra and he found out that he had the wrong player, then he had to give me the yellow and send me off. It was one of those things, but I honestly think that if he had thought it was me who caused Lucas to go down first, he wouldn't have taken out the yellow.

"It happens, and if the roles were reversed I suppose we'd have wanted the player to get sent off, these things happen, so I can't have too many complaints about Reina and the others running up the pitch, it's all part of the game," said Ward, who retained the support of his manager.

"Mick was very straight with me after and supported me, he was annoyed that I'd been sent off but he felt it wasn't a bookable offence so he stood by me," said Ward.

"I felt like I had let the lads down as we were doing well in the game, it was 0-0 at the time and we looked well-placed to get something from the game, so the sending off probably changed the game and that makes me feel a bit guilty, but Mick was great with me.

"I have already let it go, I can't dwell on these things. I'm not going out there tonight trying harder than ever to do well because I was sent off against Liverpool last time around, I want to do well because there are three points at stake, I will try and play like it's a normal game, try to play well and get a result."

Results have been thin on the ground for Wolves in recent weeks, just one win in the last five games (and that in an FA Cup tie with Tranmere, hardly the sort of form to inspire confidence before a visit by Liverpool.

"We're doing ok," says Ward. "We have had a few hard games this season, but throughout the year we have never really been outplayed over 90 minutes by anyone. Maybe we got beaten as the other team had a bit more quality in the final third, but we have done well against most teams and had dominant spells.


"Apart from Chelsea away, when we lost 4-0, and the second half of the game at home to Arsenal, where we lost 4-1, I think we have done really well, we have even done well at Old Trafford in the two games we played even though we lost both.

"It's very tight down at the bottom now, you have just two points between ourselves, Burnley, West Ham, Hull and Bolton, and I think it will stay that tight for the rest of the season. It's a real mini-league down there.

"The games against the teams around us are vital, so we have such an important few weeks ahead of us. We have Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea at home in the next few weeks but we also have Hull and West Ham away, and a derby against Birmingham as well. And in the middle of all that we have the Cup replay with Palace.

But the games against the likes of Burnley and Hull will be vital. If we can take something from this game tonight and then head to Hull at the weekend with more confidence, we'll have a great chance.There's a lot of football in a short space of time and that could make or break our season.

"We know how hard it is in the Championship, we remember how hard we worked to get out of that division so we're not going to give up our place in the Premier League without a fight.

"Mick really is a great manager to play for, all those external factors - the press, pressure from the crowd -- don't bother him at all. We had all that fuss over the 10 changes he made for the United game but it didn't affect him, all Mick cared about was that we, the players, trusted him and gave him out support, and we did that by winning the next game. His job is to pick a team every week that will keep us in the league and that's what he doing.

"Mick's experience will be vital, he has been around the game for so long and he has what it takes to lead us out of this. As players we have to take responsibility for what goes on but with Mick's guidance and knowledge, we stand a great chance of at least staying in the division.

"And he's been great to me, during the time I was out injured and once I came back. He said he would put me back into the team if I merited it and that's the way it turned out, he gave me my chance, put me into the team again and all I want to do is repay his faith."