Football: Four out of five for boy wonder

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 5 Nottingham Forest 1

Owen 10, 38, pen 71, 77 Freedman 18

McManaman 23

Half-time: 3-1 Attendance: 44,595

PUT MICHAEL OWEN back on his plinth. The England World Cup wonder boy, left out of the Liverpool side five nights earlier because he was deemed in need of a rest and in danger of burn-out, destroyed Forest with four goals, three of them his own special brand of genius.

The fact that Robbie Fowler occupied Owen's place on the bench went unnoticed in the frenzy which greeted Liverpool's rediscovery of scoring ability. But no team which offers Liverpool the freedom of the park, particularly its own park, as Forest did, can expected to escape unpunished. No wonder Forest have not won at Anfield for 29 years.

Liverpool's joint manager Roy Evans was anxious that all his team should be credited for this fine win. "Don't forget to mention it was a team performance," he urged. "This was a boost for everybody. We needed that kickstart." True enough, but there was, so to speak, only one Michael Owen yesterday, as Forest manager Dave Bassett acknowledged: "He is an excellent talent and he has got to be looked after. I would have preferred him not to be playing today, along with a few others in their team."

Though heavy rain had left the surface soft, it was not in any way treacherous. So there was no Forest excuse for the facility with which Liverpool swept into the visitors' area from the very start. Steve McManaman, roaming down both wings, was particularly menacing and in his first foray he accelerated past two defenders and across the face of the penalty zone without being able to get in a shot.

The menace of McManaman was matched by Owen, who lost his markers with ominous ease and frequency. His first touch, a low cross from the right, set up Karlheinz Riedle but Thierry Bonalair got in a crucial blocking tackle.

So the Liverpool threat was blunted, but not for long. After Neil Shipperley had proved there was life down in the Forest with a testing drive which David James held low to his left, Liverpool went in front after 10 minutes. Forest were guilty of tardiness in clearing their lines, preferring to play short passes to each other, and Paul Ince charged in to gain possession, suffering a kick on the ankle as he did so.

As Ince rolled around in agony the ball broke loose to Riedle. He slipped Owen through and Dave Beasant was left helpless as the England man curled a shot past him into the top left-hand corner.

Steve Stone's habitual excellence excepted, Forest were out of it in midfield against the predatory ball-winning of Ince and Jason McAteer. So they were perhaps a mite surprised to equalise in the 18th minute. Steve Chettle slung over a deep cross from the left touchline to the far post, where Stone brought the ball down brilliantly and laid the ball into the path of Dougie Freedman who could hardly miss.

Liverpool needed just five minutes to silence the Forest supporters' chanting. The goal originated from a horrendous mistake by Chettle, who completely midjudged a bouncing ball. Owen was on to it in a flash, sending away Patrik Berger who squared to the unmarked McManaman. The execution was simple.

Liverpool's confidence, boosted by early goals, grew apace. An excellent chance went begging as Jamie Carragher got forward to McAteer's long, deep centre but put a hasty header wide. Next Beasant snatched Staunton's pass from Owen's boot.

The inevitable third goal came seven minutes before half-time. James's long goal-kick squirted through the Forest defence and, to their dismay, it reached Owen. The teenager made it so simple as he strode into the area and rolled his shot home left-footed.

There could have been a fourth before the break but for Beasant. The Forest keeper could not hold Ince's powerful free-kick but managed to snatch it away from ... whose else but the inrushing Owen? Such misses did not matter with Owen around. After 71 minutes he was gifted the hat- trick as Riedle, turning inside Alan Rogers, was brought down. After that setback, Bassett said, Forest heads dropped. "The team looked a bit sorry for themselves. They let their errors embarrass them too much."

Six minutes later James threw to Owen, who burst away down the left, closed in on goal, ignored the unmarked McManaman and scored at the second attempt after Beasant had blocked the first. Not bad for a case of suspected burn-out.