Football: Liverpool's accent on youth pays off

Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 0
One of the more superficially astonishing facts of Liverpool's history is that their side that won the FA Youth Cup last season was the first to do so.

That says something for the effectiveness of their transfer activity over the years, and something, too, for the more recent revival of a youth policy under, topically enough, Kenny Dalglish.

Anfield has been feeling the benefit of that change of emphasis through the likes of Robbie Fowler, but last year's crop was the first to snatch the blue riband of the teenaged game.

Already, Michael Owen, a goalscorer who makes Fowler's own record at the same age look modest, has a first-team squad number. Two others from the Youth Cup side, David Thompson and Jamie Cassidy, have been on the bench; but the first to graduate to a starting place - and to do so in some style - is Jamie Carragher.

A week from his 19th birthday and the possessor of a Scouse accent so thick it makes Messrs McManaman and McAteer sound like Jeeves and Wooster, Carragher can play at the back as well as in midfield.

"We could have thrown him into the back three, but we put him in midfield where he's a little bit more confident," the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, said. "He's not fazed by anything. He was booked in the first minute and didn't let it affect him."

After that early clash with Andy Townsend, Carragher was indeed impressive, showing plenty of neat, constructive touches. But his biggest contribution was the glancing header in the 50th minute that shook Liverpool out of their recent flat phase at Anfield. As if a great weight had been lifted off their shoulders, they added two more in the next 13 minutes.

Both managers were a little carried away by that sudden goal glut, Brian Little being unduly gloomy about Villa's performance and prospects and Evans seeing his side's toothless first-half display in a much more flattering light.

But the fact remains that Liverpool are still not strutting around like Premiership leaders, let alone potential champions. There were capable performances from their wing-backs, especially Stig Inge Bjornebye, and from Bjorn Tore Kvarme, a fellow Norwegian making his debut and coping well with Dwight Yorke.

But there is still a lack of the "go forward" factor in midfield and, until Carragher showed them the way, Fowler and Stan Collymore were anonymous.

Without Carragher's breakthrough, it could have been another frustrating Anfield afternoon. There will be few more significant and influential Premiership debuts this season.

Goals: Carragher (50) 1-0; Collymore (58) 2-0; Fowler (63) 3-0.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Kvarme, Wright, Matteo; McAteer, Carragher, Redknapp, McManaman, Bjornebye; Fowler, Collymore (Kennedy, 74). Substitutes not used: Harkness, L Jones, Thompson, Warner (gk).

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Tiler; Scimeca, Curcic, Townsend, Johnson, Wright; Yorke, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Joachim, Hendrie, Farrelly, Murray, Oakes (gk).

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley). Bookings: Liverpool Carragher; Aston Villa Southgate.

Man of the match: Bjornebye. Attendance: 40,489.