by Dave Usher
Neil Mellor was a young man who just couldn't stop scoring. His goals tally for the reserves in three seasons stood at 47 in as many games. His final season for the u19's saw him hit 26 goals in just 24 appearances. Something of a late developer, it wasn't until the age of 18 that Mellor began to look like a player. Released by Man City at 16, Liverpool had snapped him up after he impressed during a trial.
A serious back injury ruined his final year at u17 level but he began to make a name for himself the following campaign as the Reds reached the FA Youth Cup semi final on the back of Mellor's goals. His progression continued the following season when he hit over 50 goals atacademy and reserve level and at the end of that season he was rewarded with a new contract and promoted to train at Melwood.
He impressed Gerard Houllier on the club's pre-season training campaign and a few months later the Sheffield born marksman made his debut in a League Cup tie with Ipswich at Anfield. His first half performance wasn't the best as the occasion seemed to affect him, but after the break he came to life, hitting the post with a left foot shot at the Kop end before winning a penalty which was converted by El HadjiDiouf. Mellor had actually been told before kick off by Houllier that he was on penalties but Diouf grabbed the ball and wouldn't let him have it, the rat.
Other chances came during the game and a goal looked to be on its way before Houllier subbed him just after the hour mark. Nevertheless,Mellor had shown that he had something to offer at first team level. He was handed further opportunities in the early part of 2003 wheninjuries ruled out Michael Owen and Emile Heskey whilst Milan Baros was dropped for disciplinary reasons. Mellor impressed as a substitute away at Newcastle, started the FA Cup tie at Maine Road against his boyhood team Manchester City, and then scored in the League Cup semi final against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
When everyone was fit again he dropped out of the first team reckoning but still finished as the reserves' top scorer with an impressive 20 goals from just 23 games. The arrivals of Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Anthony Le Tallec in the summer of 2003 pushed him further back down the pecking order, however, and after scoring twice in a friendly at Aberdeen (after coming on as a sub with just ten minutes left), he was sent on loan to West Ham.
It started well for Mellor at the Hammers but when Glenn Roeder was replaced by Alan Pardew things took a turn for the worse. First hepicked up an injury and whilst he was sidelined Pardew brought in THREE strikers. Once fit again, Mellor couldn't get back into the side and was also suffering from homesickness by this point. Desperate to get back to Melwood, he finally got his wish in March, although initially red tape prevented him from lining up for Liverpool, even at reserve level.
Eventually he was cleared to play for the second string and to make up for lost time he hit four goals on his comeback in a game with West Brom at the Hawthorns. More goals followed and despite having only played four games he ended the season as the reserves top scorer forthe third season in a row, having found the net a staggering eleven times.
An injury crisis in the 2004/05 season saw Mellor feature regularly for the first team around the turn of the year. He produced a brilliant performance as a lone striker in a 2-1 win against Arsenal at Anfield, giving Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure a torrid time before hitting a dramatic, spectacular 35 yard winner in stoppage time. He followed that up with another smart finish against Newcastle, but it was a goal in the CL game with Olympiacos that Mellor will best be remembered for.
Needing to win by three goals to avoid being eliminated from the competition, the Reds were struggling to break down a stubborn Greekdefence. Leading 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Sinama-Pongolle and with time running out, Mellor came off the bench and scored with more orless his first touch. He then turned provider to lay on the crucial third goal for Steven Gerrard, and it looked like he'd arrived as afirst team player.
Unfortunately he'd been playing through the pain barrier to help the team and eventually had to succumb to injuries to both knees. A series of operations meant the popular forward missed the remainder of the season, including the CL Final in Istanbul. To add insult to injury, he wasn't given a medal and didn't even get a place on the homecoming bus, as he was left stranded at the airport with the rest of the lads who didn't make the squad.
Mellor spent the next year trying to get fit and when he eventually did he was sent on loan to Wigan, where he scored on his debut beforebreaking down with knee trouble once more and returning to Melwood for treatment. Again, he battled to get fit, and as soon as he did he was sold to Preston. He made a bright start to his career at Deepdale before once again being struck down by injury. He spent six years with the Lilywhites before having to retire due to a serious knee injury in May 2012.
A popular figure amongst Liverpool fans, he is now a regular on the club's TV channel and also does various other TV and radio work. He'll always be best remembered though for THAT goal against Arsenal and for the key part he played on the road to Istanbul.