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Carragher's confidence booster

Liverpool 3 Carragher 50, Collymore 58, Fowler 63 Aston Villa 0 Attendance: 40,489
IF the 18-year-old Jamie Carragher plays for Liverpool into his thirties, he is unlikely to score many more psychologically valuable goals than the one that began the disintegration of Aston Villa at Anfield yesterday.

The unconvincing Premiership leaders' recent problems of disappointing home form and a shortage of goals were looming large again, when Carragher, a member of last season's FA Youth Cup-winning side who had been drafted into the first-team starting line-up for the first time, met Stig Inge Bjornebye's corner with a neat header past Mark Bosnich's left hand.

Until that 50th-minute breakthrough Liverpool had been, despite long periods when they dominated possession, the less incisive side. Afterwards, they were carried along by a veritable deluge of goals that made a mockery of their recent drought and recalled instead their three in eight minutes at the start of the equivalent fixture last season.

Within eight minutes of Carragher's opener, Bjornebye was again the provider for a decisive header, this time from the previously subdued Stan Collymore. The build-up had hinted at the old Liverpool confidence and quality, with Steve McManaman ushering the ball out to the left flank for Bjornebye to complete a sweeping move.

Jamie Redknapp, back in the side for the first time in a month, was largely responsible for the third five minutes later. His shot proved too powerful for Bosnich to hold and Robbie Fowler nipped in to complete the job.

There was no way back for Villa after that, but they had grounds for feeling that they had wasted their own opportunities to take control of this game. A weakened Liverpool team that included a second newcomer in the Norwegian Bjorn Tore Kvarme, who had been signed from Rosenborg with 10 minutes to spare on Friday afternoon, looked vulnerable in the first half. Even Carragher's first involvement was inauspicious, as he was booked for a foul on the Villa captain, Andy Townsend, within 30 seconds of the start.

Tommy Johnson and Savo Milosevic both had efforts saved and Dwight Yorke went agonisingly close to scoring twice within two minutes, first squandering an opportunity he had created himself in a delightful one-two with Riccardo Scimeca by shooting into the side netting, then having an instinctive flick saved, equally instinctively, by David James. Another good opening was wasted early in the second half by Sasa Curcic's poor cross into an exposed Liverpool penalty area, while the home side, by contrast, had been largely limited to long-range shooting from Redknapp and Jason McAteer.

But salvation can sometimes come from where you least expect it and, once Carragher had found himself unmarked six yards out, Liverpool's mini- crisis was over. Their manager, Roy Evans, said: "It was smashing for Jamie. I was pleased overall with his performance. He was very steady, but to score as well... he'll be delighted."

Hardly more delighted than his manager, you would wager, because three goals against good Premiership opposition could be just the boost in confidence that Liverpool need as the title race hots up.