Football: Boothferry no barrier for Murphy and Meijer

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The Independent Online
WHILE ARSENAL toiled in Tuscany and Manchester United embarked on the defence of the European Cup at Old Trafford, Liverpool were obliged to go to Hull and back last night. Not that it was a harrowing experience for the three-times champions of Europe.

A Third Division Hull City side which cost pounds 120,000, a fortnight's wages for Steve McManaman in Madrid, succeeded in keeping Michael Owen's name off the score-sheet. They also succeeded in beating Sander Westerveld in the Liverpool goal, David Brown, a former Old Trafford trainee, cracking a right-foot volley past the Dutch goalkeeper after 59 minutes.

However, Liverpool travelled back across the M62 with a comfortable lead from the first leg of this Worthington Cup second-round tie. Although Owen, having started his first game for five months, departed goalless, the transfer-listed Danny Murphy and the debutant Erik Meijer bagged two apiece and the veteran Steve Staunton claimed a last-minute fifth for Gerard Houllier's reshuffled team.

The last time Liverpool visited Boothferry Park, for an FA Cup fifth- round tie 10 years ago, the Tigers gave Kenny Dalglish and his team a first-half fright. Hull led 2-1 at the break before two John Aldridge goals earned them a 3-2 victory. Hull might have struck twice in the opening stages last night but the debutant Djimi Traore intercepted one threatening Steve Harper cross bound for Brown and another eluded Dave D'Auria's head by inches.

Liverpool, however, soon provided a lesson in precision play. In the 10th minute, a sweeping left-wing move ended with Vladimir Smicer crossing low from the left, Meijer stepping over the ball and Murphy burying it with a crisp drive.

The outcome might have been different had Westerveld's right-hand post not kept out a 25-yard shot by Gary Brabin, a one-time bouncer in a Liverpool nightclub and a lifelong Evertonian. On the half-hour, though, David Thompson's right-wing cross reached Murphy at the far post and the former Crewe midfielder trapped the ball before beating Lee Bracey with a side-footed shot.

Bracey, who conceded eight goals in a League Cup tie at Anfield for Swansea eight years ago, tipped a Smicer drive on to the crossbar in the 43rd minute but Meijer made it 3-0 four minutes into the second-half, turning to whack a right-foot shot past Bracey from the edge of the Hull penalty area. Although Brown's goal threatened to give Liverpool a less than comfortable time in the last 30 minutes, they ultimately won at a canter.

With 14 minutes remaining, Meijer, the Dutch-born forward Houllier signed on a free-transfer from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer, latched on to a Vegard Heggem through ball and slipped a close-range shot past the advancing Bracey. Then, in the final minute, Staunton hit the target with a sweeping drive from wide on the left.

Hull City (5-3-2): Bracey; Harper, Edwards, Whittle, Greaves, Mann (Swales, 31); D'Auria (Alcide, 55), Brabin, Schofield; Eyre (Wood, 72), Brown. Substitutes not used: Baker (gk), Williams.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Westerveld; Heggem, Traore, Hyypia, Staunton; Thompson, Murphy, Carragher, Smicer (Berger h-t); Meijer, Owen (Camara, 77). Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Bjornebye.

Referee: K Leach (Codsall).