David Brown, a burly, mop-topped 18-year-old from Bolton, cost United a pounds 20,000 fine from the Football Association after it was found that they had "poached'' him from Oldham last year. On the evidence of United's 2-1 victory on a bitterly cold evening at Anfield, it may prove to be money well spent.
The 17-year-old Owen, who hit a hat-trick when the clubs met in the fifth round last season, has since landed a lucrative boot deal and been given a senior squad number. Although he put Liverpool ahead with a penalty on this occasion, his display was not that of a player who will shortly be pushing for Robbie Fowler's place.
By contrast, as Owen faded, Brown went from strength to strength. After earning the spot kick from which Alex Notman equalised, he found space on the edge of the six-yard area to take United into the fourth round with three minutes remaining.
Alex Ferguson had joined the 4,931 crowd to watch the starlets of the North-West's big two. Sir Bobby Charlton and David Beckham, who both came to prominence in United's Youth Cup campaigns, were also present, along with Kenny Dalglish and the Crewe manager, Dario Gradi, who shares Ferguson's understanding of the importance of youth development.
Liverpool, by comparison, had been slow to catch on. The advent of Fowler, Steve McManaman and Dominic Matteo was evidence of a change in priorities, and their Youth Cup success last May was their first in the competition's 43 years (United boast eight victories).
Owen, who had also scored against West Ham in the final, spurned two passable chances but was generally well policed by John Curtis until the 50th minute. The United captain brought him down and, with the Kop closed for the night, no one could accuse its patrons of swaying the referee as Owen converted the award.
Liverpool were the stronger side, but United were sharper and more inventive. The home captain, Neil Murphy, emulated Curtis by conceding a careless penalty with 21 minutes remaining, toppling Brown as he was moving away from goal. Notman, the only Scot on view, netted with aplomb.
With a replay looming the lively Notman flicked on a left-wing cross and Brown rose to power a header beyond Roy Naylor. But if it was a sobering night for Owen, it might interest Howard Wilkinson, the FA's new technical director, to know that the most skilful player on the pitch was Liverpool's Nicky Rizzo... an Australian.
Liverpool (4-4-2): R Naylor; Murphy, Wright, Hessey, Williams; Parkinson, Gerrard (Cass, 75), Rizzo, Friars; Newby (Partridge, 86), Owen. Substitute not used: Dunbavin (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-2): Sadler; Ford, Curtis, W Brown, Higginbottom; Brightwell, Wellens, Notman, Wilson; D Brown, Wood (G Naylor, 61). Substitutes not used: Mille, Healy, Rachubka (gk).
Referee: J Higginbottom (Sheffield).Reuse content