Football: Owen's life in fast lane

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace 0

Liverpool 3

McManaman 39, Owen 56, Leonhardsen 61

Attendance: 25,790

Michael Owen is not the sort of kid to take advantage of the licensing laws during his 18th birthday celebrations today. The Liverpool forward prefers old-fashioned pop to the modern alcoholic alternative and his local pub is unlikely to receive a visit from the most talked about teenager in football.

Owen is rapidly, almost inevitably, playing his way into England's World Cup squad and again showed that his teenage years betray an advanced knowledge and mastery of his art. He scored Liverpool's second, following Steve McManaman's opener, laid on their third and generally gave the Crystal Palace defence the run-around whenever he cared to.

Owen, and his Liverpool team-mates, did not have to be at their best to bounce back from last week's Anfield mauling by Manchester United, but they won comfortably and left Palace still searching for their first home win of the season.

"Michael has come a long way in a short time but he handles it all so well," said the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, afterwards. "He doesn't mind the physical stuff, likes to take on the big guys and his pace is blistering when he gets away from his man. It's a pleasing sight to see him and Robbie Fowler in full flow."

Owen had been at the heart of most of Liverpool's attacking play in the first half, but the turning point came when Palace lost their Italian striker Michele Padovano with a hamstring injury 10 minutes before the break. McManaman scored with a sweetly timed volley from Jason McAteer's corner five minutes later and there was only one side in it from then on.

Padovano, who had produced two good saves from David James early on, was then joined on the sideline by his fellow countryman Attilio Lombardo, who had failed to respond to a half-time pain-killing injection and was withdrawn three minutes into the second half. What a way for the former Juventus team-mates to mark their first game together in some two years.

Owen officially finished the game as a contest seven minutes later, when he ran on to a finely weighted Jamie Redknapp pass and scored with a first- time chip, over a sprawling Kevin Miller, using the outside of his right boot. Sheer class. He then set up the third when he ended another run with a low cross which was watched with interest but left untouched by McManaman and Fowler, then dispatched into the back of the net by Oyvind Leonhardsen from 10 yards out.

The Palace manager, Steve Coppell, conceded that he has gambled by investing so much of his funds in his Italian stars, because this is the result when the rest of his players have to fill in the gaps. Palace are not too good to go down, but they appear to deserve some better luck - and will need it to survive.

Evans's task is more straightforward and he refuses to hand the Premiership title to Old Trafford just yet. "It's never say die for us," Evans concluded. "You never know what will happen."

A bit like watching Liverpool play football really.