Football: Liverpool too slick for Leeds

Leeds United 1 Liverpool 2
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The Independent Online
HAS THERE ever been a season like it for high profile own goals? Frank Sinclair, with two, still leads a distinguished field that includes Jaap Stam, Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu, to be joined last night by Rigobert Song and, crucially, Lucas Radebe.

The Leeds captain's misfortune soon after half-time completed Liverpool's fightback after their goal had gone for a Song midway through the first half. But there was nothing fortuitous about this victory. After two consecutive defeats, their multinational line-up administered a harsh football lesson to Leeds' much-vaunted youngsters.

A timely success it was, too, given that Liverpool's next two opponents are Arsenal and Manchester United. Michael Owen might even be fit for Saturday's battle of wits between Gerard Houllier and his friend and compatriot Arsene Wenger. On this evidence, Owen will have to be content with a place on the substitutes' bench.

So, Elland Road continues to be a happy hunting ground for Liverpool, who now boast a record of 10 wins and only three defeats in 18 visits stretching back to Kevin Keegan's bubble-permed pomp. Keegan returned last night in his capacity as England manager and found that candidates for the squad he will name on Thursday were in the thick of the action.

If Keegan wanted reassurance about Lee Bowyer's defensive capabilities, or a reminder of Jamie Redknapp's ability to break into scoring positions, his presence was rewarded by the 14th-minute incident which ought to have brought Liverpool the lead. The move, in which Titi Camara was typically prominent, looked certain to result in a goal as the Guinean cut back a precise cross to Redknapp.

The Liverpool captain, 12 yards from goal, angled a fierce shot back across Nigel Martyn, only for Bowyer to materialise as if from nowhere and launch himself into an astonishing diving header which cleared the ball off the line.

Houllier, ludicrously under fire from sections of the Anfield support, must nonetheless have been heartened by his team's positive start. Camara, in particular, performed with a panache which meant Liverpool did not miss Owen or indeed his four other injured colleagues.

Just when the "new" Liverpool seemed to be gelling, however, an old failing found them out in the 21st minute, before Leeds had so much as put a shot on target. With the goalkeeper, Sander Westerveld, notasserting himself, Ian Harte's corner sailed over two defenders before going in off the unfortunate Song, highlighting their ongoing weakness in the air at set-pieces.

Liverpool deservedly drew level in first-half stoppage time. A quick fire one-two between Camara and Patrik Berger saw Radebe slide-tackle the Czech. The ball broke to Camara, whose first-time shot with minimal backlift from just outside the area found the net off the underside of the bar.

The home crowd, already restless at the sight of their side being out- passed by a team supposedly in crisis, were stunned into silence as Liverpool went in front 10 minutes into the second half. The warning signs had been evident moments before the goal, when Dominic Matteo played Berger in and Martyn had to save smartly from the ensuing drive.

Yet, in Liverpool's next thrust along their left flank, Berger was given room in which to cross into the heart of Leeds six-yard box. Robbie Fowler - a recent target for Leeds according to the chairman's programme column - challenged for the ball with Radebe and the Premiership's 10th own goal of the season went spinning past Martyn off the South African's boot.

David O'Leary's response was to withdraw Michael Bridges, in favour of Alan Smith, but the change failed to produce the penetration which the increasingly lamented Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink used to offer.

Houllier, whose animated reaction to the final whistle betrayed the tension under which he is working, later suggested curiously that it might be another two months before Liverpool produce such displays with the requisite consistency. O'Leary, whose view that Redknapp "ran the game" would doubtless have been shared by Keegan, bemoaned Leeds' "worst performance since I've been here" and hoped the setback might "stop the hype and bring people down to earth".

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Mills, Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Hopkin (Bakke, 67), Bowyer, Batty, Kewell; Huckerby, Bridges (Smith, 56), Substitutes not used: Duberry, Kelly, Robinson (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): Westerveld; Song, Carragher, Hyypia, Matteo; Thompson, Redknapp, Gerrard, Berger; Camara, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Staunton, Meijer, Murphy, Traore, Friedel (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow on the Hill).