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Saturday, 20 July, 2002, 15:13 GMT 16:13 UK
Partridge ready to spread wings
Partridge in action on his competitive debut against Stoke
Partridge signed a new Anfield deal last season

A young Irish winger could be the answer to Liverpool's lack of width - but the player in question is not necessarily Damien Duff.

While the Reds' defence was the meanest in the Premiership last season, a shortage of options in attack cost them the title.

The absence of genuine wide players willing to take men on and serve the strikers from the by-line remains a glaring one.


Richie is very talented and very quick
Gerard Houllier

Hence Liverpool's interest in the highly impressive - not to mention highly expensive - Duff.

The Reds have been lining up alongside Manchester United as potential suitors to Blackburn's World Cup hero this summer.

And while Duff would be another valuable capture for Gerard Houllier, the Liverpool manager knows he has an alternative potential solution closer to home.

For the past six years, when asked which of the club's youngsters is most likely to follow Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher into the first team, most Anfield judges have put Richie Partridge high up on the list.

Partridge graduated from the Liverpool Academy to the senior squad in September 1999.

And, at almost 22, this season could be the one in which he makes the breakthrough from bench to pitch.

The young Dubliner has been at Anfield since he was 15.

Partridge won the U18 European Championships with Ireland
Partridge has risen through the Irish ranks
A winner of the Under-18 European Championship with Ireland a year ahead of his time, he has been named his club's youth team player of the year and his country's young player of the year.

He operates in the classic winger's style, with the pace to take him past defenders to the by-line and the ability to deliver dangerous crosses when he gets there.

Houllier said of his prospects: "I am pleased with the way Richie is progressing. He is very talented and very quick."

Appropriately, Partridge made his competitive debut at Stoke City, home of the ultimate winger Stanley Matthews, starting on the right flank in an 8-0 Worthington Cup win in November 2000.

He had scored on his debut in a friendly at Bournemouth in February that year but has since had to settle for a place on the bench in Europe and a couple of loan spells in the lower divisions.

The main obstacle to his progress appears to be his size - at 5'7" and 10st 7lbs, he is even smaller and lighter than Owen.

Nevertheless, he has impressed sufficiently in the Reds reserves to captain Ireland's Under-21s and be handed a new two-year Anfield contract.

Houllier said of his debut at Stoke: "I've known for a while that Richie has been close to the first team and this was the right time to give him the chance to show us what he can do."

If Liverpool continue sticking to the straight and narrow this season, the manager may be tempted to ask Partridge to spread his wings once more.


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