MICHAEL OWEN, born when his father Terry was a journeyman centre- forward with Port Vale, showed no sentiment to the Potteries club yesterday. On a day of firsts for Liverpool - who had surely never changed in a portakabin before - Owen marked his FA Cup debut by converting the penalty which put the five-time holders in command on what was also Gerard Houllier's introduction to the competition.
The 19-year-old England striker duly became the first Liverpool player to score in his first game in the League, Europe, the League Cup and the FA equivalent. Absent ill when Liverpool went out to Coventry in last year's third round, he went about his task as if making up for lost time, although the losers argued with some justification that Owen went to ground rather too readily for the spot-kick award.
Paul Ince quickly killed the game as a contest by doubling the advantage. Owen, undaunted by chants of "cheat", set up the third goal in stoppage time, Robbie Fowler's first since his hat-trick at Aston Villa in November.
Thirty-five years ago this month Liverpool had come to Burslem for a replay, squeezing through in the last minute of extra-time before 43,000 paying customers and an estimated 10,000 gatecrashers. The re-match was a more orderly affair, with fewer than 17,000 ticket-holders filling the three sides of Vale Park currently in use and the home side unable to emulate the valiant deeds of their predecessors.
Vale's FA Cup scalps include Tottenham and Everton during John Rudge's reign as manager. But the quagmire which helped them upset Spurs was replaced here by a smooth surface, ideal for Liverpool's ground-level game, and Rudge has struggled to replace players like Jon McCarthy and Steve Guppy who did so much to break Goodison's grip on the prize.
A flu outbreak forced the First Division strugglers to give a debut to Neil Brisco, a free-transfer recruit from Manchester City. The 20-year- old, playing with a cast on a fractured hand, tackled and chased his heart out. However, with Vale low on craft and confidence, it was only a matter of time before Liverpool translated possession into goals.
The spectacle required the home team to score first. Peter Beadle, driving a free-kick into the midriff of the diving David James, and Brian McGlinchey, volleying across the six-yard area following another set-piece, hinted at an upset, but Owen's ability to run at opponents like a one-man swarm was already worrying the thirty-somethings staffing Vale's back three.
Paul Beesley was booked for the second of two fouls on him, a factor that may have weighed on his mind as Owen surged towards him 11 minutes before half-time. Beesley offered no challenge, yet when Dave Barnett snaked out a leg it was all the invitation the teenager needed to go tumbling.
Echoes of Argentina in St Etienne, except that this time Owen got up to take the penalty himself. Putting the memory of a recent miss at Wimbledon behind him, drilling his 16th goal of the season.
Vale, who have conceded 50 goals in the League, were indebted to McGlinchey for hooking Phil Babb's header off the line four minutes later. But from the ensuing corner, by Patrik Berger, Babb again won the ball in the air and Ince glanced Liverpool's second.
The second half could have become a training exercise for Houllier's men. Vale, to their credit, kept plugging away and might have set up a pulsating final half-hour had Babb not raced back to make a superb sliding tackle on Tony Naylor.
Rudge sent on a trio of replacements, but there is no substitute for Owen's scorching pace. In stoppage time, he burned off Michael Walsh near the corner before cutting the ball back to Fowler who hit home with power from 12 yards out.
Goals: Owen (pen, 34) 0-1; Ince (38) 0-2; Fowler (90) 0-3.
Port Vale (3-5-2): Pilkington; Aspin, Barnett, Beesley (Horlaville, 70); Walsh, Brisco (O'Callaghan, 87), Bogie, Tankard, McGlinchey (Corden, 84); Naylor, Beadle. Substitutes not used: Snijders, Musselwhite (gk).
Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Carragher, Staunton, Babb; McAteer, Ince, Redknapp, Berger, Bjornebye (Harkness, 70); Owen, Riedle (Fowler, 61). Substitutes not used: Kvarme, Thompson, Friedel (gk).
Referee: R Harris (Oxfordshire). Bookings: Port Vale: Beesley, McGlinchey, Barnett, Brisco. Liverpool: Riedle.
Man of the match: Owen.
Attendance: 16,557.Reuse content