Liverpool 3 Leeds United 1
Everybody can beat everyone else in the Premiership, George Graham declared before Christmas. His own team, Leeds, continue to provide one of the exceptions to the rule when it comes to taking on Liverpool, for whom Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler maintained an extraordinary ascendancy in the fixture yesterday.
Owen, breaking the deadlock 55 seconds into the second half, and Fowler, with two late goals before Alf Inge Haland's reply, consigned Leeds to their customary emphatic defeat at Anfield. They have now won just once in 20 League and Cup visits dating back a quarter of a century to the era of Bill Shankly and Don Revie.
Liverpool, who began 1997 as League leaders, will go into its final game at Newcastle on Sunday lying fourth, 12 points behind Manchester United with a match in hand. While only the wildest dreamers among their fans harbour hopes of the title, the manner in which they eventually overwhelmed Leeds suggested that the runners-up spot and a Champions' League place is not beyond them.
Before a crowd of nearly 44,000 - English football's biggest away from Old Trafford this season - the sides looked evenly matched during the first half. Liverpool had the only genuine chance, when Jason McAteer climaxed a superb, twisting run at the heart of Leeds' defence by haplessly scooping the ball over the bar with only Nigel Martyn to beat.
The course of events changed irrevocably immediately after half-time. Robert Molenaar and David Robertson contrived to jump into one another as they rose to meet Steve Harkness's cross, the ball breaking to Oyvind Leonhardsen. His short pass found Owen charging up in support, and the 18-year-old drove his 10th goal of the season past Martyn from 12 yards.
Liverpool, and Fowler in particular, spurned several chances before sealing Leeds' fate with two goals in quick succession. With 11 minutes remaining and Leeds committed to the quest for an equaliser, a move which started with David James bowling the ball out ended with Steve McManaman playing Fowler in to drive home his first goal from open play since 4 November. His second owed everything to Owen's selflessness. Wriggling past two defenders, he laid the ball across for Fowler to steer home his 11th of the season.
Leeds, for whom Jimmy Hasselbaink and David Hopkin had shot wide and headed over respectively early in either half, finally scored their second goal in 12 trips to Anfield with six minutes left. Haland, for once leaving McManaman's side, headed in Gary Kelly's free-kick, which meant Graham's team have now scored more goals than they managed all last season.
Roy Evans, savouring three successive League wins for the first time this season, felt it had been a triumph of patience. Could they still catch United? "We need more than three victories on the trot," the Liverpool manager said. "We could do with 23 wins back-to-back to give us a chance."
Liverpool (4-4-2): James; McAteer, Kvarme, Matteo, Harkness; McManaman, Ince (Carragher, 85), Redknapp (Berger, 85), Leonhardsen; Owen, Fowler (Riedle, 85). Substitutes not used: Babb, Friedel (gk).
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Halle, Wetherall, Molenaar, Robertson; Kelly, Hopkin, Ribeiro, Haland; Hasselbaink, Wallace. Substitutes not used: Bowyer, Kewell, Lilley, Maybury, Beeney (gk).
Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).Reuse content