Owen 45, Camara 74
Coventry City 0
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 44,024
AFTER A pre-match parade of former Liverpool heroes to mark the 40th anniversary of Bill Shankly's arrival at Anfield, the present generation, despite their recent fine run of results, were always going to be find it difficult to catch and match the mood. The gods decided to smile on them, granting victory by a flattering margin after one of the less impressive performances in a sequence of seven wins from eight games.
The turn-out of some of Shankly's greatest signings included Kevin Keegan, and two of his first purchases, the Scots Ron Yeats (of whom he famously said: "Come and take a walk around him") and Ian St John. The latter, having taken his seat in the press box, would have admired the two goals, by Michael Owen and Titi Camara, but Yeats, now Liverpool's chief scout, must have grimaced at some of the defending.
There was little inspiration in midfield either and Coventry's manager, Gordon Strachan, was understandably disappointed to have added to his club's long list of failures at Anfield. Three victories in the past 10 years had relieved some of the historical burden but yesterday there was again no reward for some solid defending and much second-half pressure.
Gerard Houllier was aware that the pre-match celebrations might have an effect on his team and therefore appeared happy to take the points and go into Christmas ensconced in the top five. "The best way for the players to pay their tribute was to win the game," he said. "I warned them that Coventry would be a very difficult side to beat, with only two defeats in eight away games, so I'm pleased they kept focused."
The focus was blurred much of the time. Coventry should have led in the ninth minute, Dominic Matteo and the normally reliable Sami Hyypia allowing Noel Whelan between them to meet Gary McAllister's cross six yards from goal, only to head feebly wide. Coventry had lost a raft of defenders to injury, including the former Liverpool left-back David Burrows, and might have lost another early on: Gary Breen received a yellow card that could have been red after Michael Owen went down holding his face.
Owen got even rather than angry, extracting his revenge at the end of the first half in the fourth minute of what was supposed to be two minutes' added time. Coventry had survived one threat in the 41st minute as Camara met Steven Gerrard's cross with a firm header that Hedman did exceptionally well to keep out, but then Matteo supplied Owen, who twisted away from the Irishman before beating the goalkeeper.
Remarkably, it was a first goal at Anfield this season for the England striker, who celebrated his 20th birthday earlier in the week, but it did not act as the spur for which Liverpool had hoped. Despite the introduction of the more attacking Vladimir Smicer for David Thompson, who pulled up lame, they spent a long spell after the interval doing little more than play on the break.
Carlton Palmer, still going strong after all these years, loped forward for a shot that was pushed round a post, then got in the way of a long cross by Paul Telfer that would have been better left for Whelan just behind him. In the 63rd minute Mustapha Hadji crossed for Whelan, who brought the ball down well in eluding his marker, but was thwarted by Sander Westerveld's smart block.
There could have been few complaints about an equaliser at that stage. Instead Camara picked up Matteo's throw-in and smacked a deflected shot into the top corner of Hedman's net.
The Swede saved later from Patrik Berger's equally fierce drive, but even Shanks might have felt that a third goal would have been unfair.