Football: Owen fires Liverpool's renaissance

Liverpool 5 West Ham United 0
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Liverpool 5 West Ham United 0

FOOTBALL is straightforward for West Ham supporters; you win a few, lose a few, end up mid-table and you hate Paul Ince. Life used to be as predictable for Liverpool fans; you win, win and win again.

That is why the current Liverpool side is so frustrating. This was their biggest win of the season a week after they had been labelled gutless by their manager for conceding four goals at Chelsea. Now they leap over Chelsea into third place and are back in the Uefa Cup.

"There were some great performances out there, but our overall game is the most important thing," said Roy Evans afterwards. "That is what we preach here and what we demand every week - I don't know why we didn't get it right last week and that's why I was unhappy."

So Liverpool's consistency, in standards and attitude, is a mystery to their manager too. It also explains why they have won 17 Premiership games, but lost 13 (four at Anfield) and says much of the inconsistency of the teams around them that they look like finishing so high in the table.

The return of Jason McAteer and Michael Owen to the Liverpool starting line-up can not be underestimated though. Owen came back from a ban with a bang by scoring from a McAteer pass after only four minutes.

The Irishman marked his first start since breaking a leg in January with his first two goals of the season and it was all over by half-time when Oyvind Leonhardsen added a fourth. Paul Ince's fifth after the break merely added to the misery of the West Ham fans who had taunted their former hero turned villain at every opportunity.

West Ham went into the game on the back of conceding four goals at home to Southampton, but the genuine chance of attaining a Uefa Cup place and the massed ranks of their supporters should have been sufficient incentive to do well.

But the big match atmosphere seemed to have little effect as their attempt at neat, pretty passing would be best described as casual. The West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, was as baffled as Evans and said: "We gave two bad goals away early on and the game was over, we were all over the place. I can't find any consolation from that.

"They had four or five players missing so we won't get a better chance to win here. I wouldn't have taken the draw beforehand because we came here to win. But what can you do? Michael Owen was absolutely unplayable and in a different class."

The watching England coach, Glenn Hoddle, would have taken note of that, as Evans said: "Anyone who likes football would have realised young Michael had a very good game."

Just as anyone who follows football thinks of Liverpool as underachievers. They will continue to be so until they can add steel and consistency to their undoubted ability to attack and score goals when the mood takes them.

Goals: Owen (4) 1-0; McAteer (21, 25) 2-0; 3-0; Leonhardsen (45) 4-0; Ince (61) 5-0.

Liverpool: Friedel; Kvarme, McAteer, Babb, Bjornebye, Leonhardsen, Harkness, Riedle, Ince, Owen, Carragher. Substitutes not used: James (gk), Berger, Murphy, Gudnason, Roberts.

West Ham: Lama; Unsworth, Pearce, Ferdinand, Lazaridis, Lomas, Lampard, Moncur (Omoyinmi, 75), Sinclair, Berkovic (Abou, 52), Kitson (Mean, 84). Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Berthe.

Referee: J Winter (Middlesbrough).

Bookings: Liverpool: Babb. West Ham: Lama, Berkovic, Sinclair, Ferdinand, Unsworth.

Attendance: 44,414.

Man of the match: Owen.