Football: Owen omens comfort poor Liverpool

Liverpool 2 Southampton 3
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The Independent Online
Any lingering doubts that Glenn Hoddle had chosen the right Liverpool striker to do duty against Chile next week were emphatically removed in a strange, bitter-sweet match for the Merseysiders that made a mockery of their championship pretensions, never mind the bizarre events up the road at Old Trafford.

Roy Evans' loyalty towards his players in these mercenary times is touching if not a trifle misplaced but how he can persist with Robbie Fowler in the side, never mind protest at his England omission, while he is in his present form and Karlheinz Riedle remains idle, beggars belief.

Michael Owen must be relieved that he will have someone other than Fowler sharing the workload in attack at Wembley, because he certainly got little help here from his co-striker. For 45 minutes on Saturday it did not seem to matter as the precocious one came as close as it is possible to winning a match single-handedly.

His energy was reminiscent of Kevin Keegan in his early days at Anfield, the England call-up appearing to give him even greater zip. If he was not on the end of almost every ball out of defence, he was making runs and producing crosses that someone like Alan Shearer would have gobbled up. What a mouth- watering combination they would make, now that the latter has learned the art of keeping a more central position.

But Owen on Saturday was forced to go it alone and not surprisingly he ran out of steam while Liverpool ran out of ideas, a frequent occurrence whenever Jamie Redknapp is absent or Steve McManaman is off his game, as he was to an almost embarrassing degree here. Whether it was due to the previous week's hamstring pull or his own erratic nature it was hard to say, but Hoddle would not have trusted him to carry the kit on this form.

Such excuses, however, for the end of their eight-match unbeaten run do Southampton an injustice. Without the suspended Carlton Palmer, the Saints produced the kind of diligent, disciplined performance that is becoming readily associated with David Jones's team. It was their first win at Anfield for 17 years and was all the sweeter for their manager, who is an Evertonian. Since Southampton's other away win was at Goodison Park, at least was he even-handed with his punishment.

Getting off to flyer, of course, helped but they were still run ragged in the first half by Owen following David Hirst's eighth-minute penalty, the result of a reckless challenge by David James on Matthew Oakley. But after some sloppy defending of their own, of which the predatory Owen took advantage, they settled down and dug in.

Southampton's performance was all the more laudable given that they lost three players throughout the course of the match because of injury, among them their talisman, Kevin Davies, whose goals have accounted for Chelsea and Manchester United in recent weeks.

Egil Ostenstad, however, is hardly a poor substitute when it comes to finishing and in the last five minutes he and Hirst took advantage of some frail defending to score a goal apiece and they could have had more.

A pale imitation of the old Liverpool they may be but at least Owen is a worthy heir and it was not without significance that his 14th goal of the season, a header in injury time, saw him overtake Fowler as leading goalscorer.

Goals: Hirst pen (8) 0-1; Owen (24) 1-1; Ostenstad (85) 1-2; Hirst (89) 1-3; Owen (90) 2-3.

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Jones, Babb, Matteo, Harkness; McManaman, Ince, Carragher (Murphy, 58), Leonhardsen (Berger, 58); Fowler, Owen. Substitutes not used: Kvarme, Riedle, Warner (gk).

Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Lundekvam (Dryden, 47), Todd, Oakley (Williams, 14), Hughes, Richardson, Beresford; Hirst, Davies (Ostenstad, 39). Substitutes not used: Le Tissier, Moss (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Middlesbrough).

Bookings: Liverpool: James, Fowler. Southampton: Williams, Monkou.

Man of the match: Owen.

Attendance: 43,580.