Football: Houllier winning roll rides on luck

Liverpool 2 Murphy 66, Redknapp 69 Derby County 0 Half-time: 0- 0 Attendance: 44,467
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The Independent Online
WITH THEIR first goal helped in by a crucial deflection, their second aided by the lack of an offside flag and a Derby County player hitting the crossbar, maybe Liverpool's luck, which has been lacking in recent seasons, has finally changed for the better. To put an even broader smile on Liverpool and England fans' faces, Michael Owen came through 80 minutes of action apparently unscathed, ahead of the Scotland confrontation next week.

This victory, finished off after 70 minutes with Jamie Redknapp rounding Russell Hoult and finding the empty net after flirting with Derby's offside trap, made it three wins in a row for Gerard Houllier's men. For Jim Smith and his Derby side, a week after beating Chelsea, seeing Deon Burton hit the bar a few minutes later was proof that it was not to be their day. The relegation zone is still uncomfortably close after a performance that rarely threatened Liverpool's rearguard.

It was the appearance of Owen, whose hamstring has been so problematic, in the starting line-up that was the biggest talking point before this match; a fortnight ago he had hobbled off against Southampton after a fleeting appearance as a substitute. Ironically, since then Liverpool have embarked on their best run of the season and Owen did not shine on his comeback.

Against a Derby side boosted by an impressive win over Chelsea last week, Liverpool also had to contend with a flu outbreak that made Vladimir Smicer and Sami Hyypia doubtful until just before kick-off. They lost Smicer to a hamstring injury after just 15 minutes to be replaced, crucially, by Danny Murphy.

Derby were unable to field their new loan signing, Georgi Kinkladze, as he waits for his work permit. They were further undone by Stefano Eranio being taken off by stretcher in the first half after an innocuous challenge by Hyypia and were pinned back in their own half for long stretches of the game.

For all Liverpool's dominance and attacking options, it was Jamie Carragher, one of their more unsung players, who came closest to breaking the deadlock, as the midfielder sidefooted a 25-yard shot just over the crossbar after 27 minutes. That effort followed Dietmar Hamann's shot drilled low past the post after the ball was cutback by Titi Camara, who saw an overhead shot of his own fly over the crossbar.

Derby, for their part, scarcely threatened Sander Westerveld in the Liverpool goal, with Burton seeing his 17th minute effort blocked from close range and go out for a corner.

With under an hour gone Anfield was beginning to resemble more of a casualty ward than a football pitch, as with the clock on 57 minutes, Derby had made all three of their substitutions and Liverpool had made two replacements, Camara joining Smicer on the injured list, while Seth Johnson and Esteban Fuertes had come off for the visitors.

It was while Liverpool were down to 10 men, with Camara having treatment, that Derby at last came close to scoring. Enjoying a brief spell of possession, Vas Borbokis swung in a corner that Spencer Prior reached first, but he saw his header cleared off the line by an alert Murphy.

That stung Liverpool into action and again Murphy was at the business end of things, this time dribbling into the penalty box before shooting into the side-netting.

Then Murphy capped an impressive spell when, with 66 minutes gone, he again set off on a mazy run that saw his shot fly off a desperate tackle by Prior and deflect past Hoult for Liverpool to take the lead.