Football: Fowler to the fore as Liverpool step up the pace
Liverpool 3 Wimbledon 1
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Wednesday 29 December 1999
But then Patrik Berger, lively only by comparison with the lifeless spectacle going on around him, won a corner, too. Danny Murphy floated it over and Wimbledon unaccountably allowed it to drop on the edge of their six-yard box, where Michael Owen stole in to half-volley the ball into the net.
It was Owen's fourth goal in three matches since he began to rediscover his sharpness and, if ever one goal looked likely to decide a match, this was it. Not so; within six minutes Wimbledon had equalised with their first serious attempt on goal, Kenny Cunningham flighting the ball in from the right and Marcus Gayle meeting it with a downward header that bounced up and through the goal-line defence.
The goal that deserved to win the game arrived as part of this headlong rush four minutes later. Hermann Hreidarsson handled the ball a few yards outside the penalty area and Berger's left-footed free-kick curled past a bemused Neil Sullivan.
Wimbledon could have had another equaliser when, in a near replay of their goal, Cunningham's cross was met firmly by the substitute, Carl Cort. This time, however, the header went narrowly wide.
As if warned that this reawakened game might have another twist in its tale, Liverpool made safe the points that took them into fourth place at tea-time a minute later.
Robbie Fowler had replaced Murphy after the first Liverpool goal, easing his way back after a nagging ankle injury. Eleven minutes from time another substitute, Vladimir Smicer, flicked on a long clearance and Fowler looped his header over Sullivan for his first goal since the end of August and his 150th for the club.
It was a bonus for spectators who were due an apology for the first half, during which Liverpool had an abundance of possession in and around the Wimbledon box without ever looking like scoring. The only time a breakthrough looked likely was when Titi Camara ran at the Wimbledon defence and, although his touch often let him down, he did at least manage the rarity of a shot on target, saved low down by Sullivan.
Understandably, Gerard Houllier preferred to dwell on the second half and the result rather than the barren first. "It was a good way of leaving the century," the Liverpool manager said. "It was a very, very good performance, because Wimbledon are a difficult side to beat away from home. We knew it would be a tactical battle and we had to keep our patience."
Goals: Owen (58) 1-0; Gayle (64) 1-1; Berger (68) 2-1; Fowler (80) 3- 1.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Westerveld; Heggem, Henchoz, Hyypia, Matteo; Murphy (Fowler, 59), Gerrard, Carragher, Berger; Camara (Song, 90), Owen (Smicer, 64). Substitutes not used: Staunton, Nielsen (gk).
Wimbledon (4-1-3-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Hreidarsson, Thatcher, Kimble (Cort, 33); Andersen; Earle, Euell, Gayle; Badir (Francis, 76), Leaburn (Andresen, 76). Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Willmott.
Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).
Bookings: Wimbledon: Badir, Euell.
Man of the match: Berger.
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