Football: Fowler preys on sorry Saints

Liverpool 7 Fowler 22 37 47, Matteo 35, Carragher 55, Owen 73, Thompson 73 Southampton 1 Ostenstad 59 Half-time: 3-0 Attendance: 44,011
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The Independent Online
ANFIELD has become accustomed to feast or famine, particularly against opposition arriving with the tag of easy prey. Rarely, though, has the feast been as lavish or the prey as easy.

Robbie Fowler gorged himself at the banquet with his second hat-trick of the season but, despite Liverpool's all-round excellence, Southampton, and the goalkeeper Paul Jones in particular, were profligate with the scraps fed to their opponents.

The result keeps Gerard Houllier's men within reach of the leading pack, but the manager dismissed talk of a championship charge and modest understatement was the order of the day. "We are still in a period of convalescence. The main concern before the game was that we would play in a professional way and not flop. When you win 7-1 you have to have a bit of luck but, apart from that, what pleased me was the fact that we developed some very good moves. But there were still some things I was not happy about," he confessed.

Southampton's own famine is approaching crisis proportions and there is little sign of emergency release. This was not what the doctor ordered following their midweek cup defeat at the hands of second division Fulham. Liverpool were clearly in no mood for charity and tore into their visitors from the outset, the young central defender Garry Monk on the receiving end of a torrid opening examination by Michael Owen.

The first goal set the standard for the game. Jones rose above the crowd in attempting to collect a seemingly innocuous Stig Inge Bjornebye corner but the ball was fumbled and fell invitingly at the feet of Fowler, who converted from close range.

The visitors did not learn their lesson and the second goal resulted from similar woeful defending from another corner, this time delivered by Patrik Berger and headed home convincingly by the returning Dominic Matteo without a Southampton challenge to be seen. It was too much to take for the manager, David Jones, who described the display as his lowest moment in the game. "The first goal killed me. The one thing you have to do is weather the storm. We speak day in, day out about defending the set-piece and I have again been slaughtered by a set-piece," he observed.

Liverpool's third came when Fowler's first touch from an Owen delivery took out the last defender, back-up was non-existent and the floated finish effortless.

The Southampton torture continued immediately after the break when Fowler completed his treble with an unchallenged looping header from an Owen cross which resulted from typically fluent and assured build-up play. "We said at half-time that we had to stand tall yet the fourth was scored by the smallest man on the park and I have got two 6ft 2in defenders," Jones added.

The fifth was soon to follow when the ball ballooned up from Jones's flailing leg when a Jamie Redknapp drive took a deceiving deflection. Jamie Carragher was the first to react to follow up and nod into the empty goal. Egil Ostenstad responded with a low drive into David James' far corner but it was barely worthy of the consolation label.

Fowler turned provider for the sixth, his trickery releasing Phil Babb down the left flank to swing a low curling cross towards Owen, who rammed in a deserved conversion. And Jones completed a wretched day in the Southampton goal when he parried a Berger blast into the path of the substitute David Thompson, who tapped in with his first touch of the game.

"To stand there and watch that was very hard for me. When Liverpool get the smell of blood they just go forward and that's what they did today," Jones added.