Football: ROUND-UP - Owen brings Houllier hope

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL OWEN is near the end of a "long dark tunnel" and will be back in training within 10 days, the Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, said yesterday after his side's impressive 2-0 win over Feyenoord at the Carlsberg Challenge in Belfast.

Owen's fitness problems and the length of time it is taking him to recover from a hamstring injury has been dominating Houllier's mind in recent days.

He said: "We have had some good news about Michael while we have been out here. The doctor has kept me fully informed. For Michael, when he starts training again it will be the end of a long, dark tunnel for him. I can see that being within a week to 10 days."

Owen's treatment has been the source of much speculation this week. Houllier has admitted a difference of opinion with the club's physiotherapist Mark Leather over the treatment, and Leather has not accompanied the squad to Ulster for this four-team tournament. The England international striker has been sent to the German specialist Dr Hans Muller-Wohlfahrt, who also looks after Bayern Munich and the German national side.

Owen is now back in England having intensive treatment, and Houllier believes the teenager will be playing again within a week of the season starting. Houllier was also pleased with the way his new-look team is shaping up and said: "Slowly but surely we are getting there. This was our fourth pre-season friendly win, and we still haven't conceded a goal. It's good to win any tournament, and we were delighted to do so in Ireland where we have so many fans."

Vladimir Smicer came on as a second-half substitute to turn the game for Liverpool with a spectacular goal, and then Titi Camara added the second. Smicer limped off with a recurrence of an ankle injury that had delayed his arrival to join the squad until Friday. Houllier said: "We took him off as a precaution because he had injured the same ankle. It doesn't look serious, but it's too early to tell."

Bradford City's uninspiring pre-season preparations took another setback when they were beaten by Third Division Halifax Town at The Shay. A 28th- minute penalty converted by Halifax's midfielder Jamie Paterson was enough to give the Shaymen a notable win.

Bradford lacked a cutting edge up front throughout and, with Lee Mills and Isiah Rankin injured, their manager Paul Jewell's options are worryingly limited with only two weeks to the start of the Premiership season.

Leeds United yesterday dismissed claims of a row between their manager David O'Leary and the Elland Road board over the striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's future. Atletico Madrid are reportedly ready to bid pounds 10.5m for the Dutchman and O'Leary was widely quoted as threatening to quit if Hasselbaink was allowed to leave.

However, a statement from Leeds said: "Contrary to [Saturday's] speculation in certain national newspapers, both David O'Leary and the Leeds board are in total agreement regarding the position of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. He has been offered a new four-year contract on terms that would make him the highest-paid player at the club. Clearly this demonstrates that we wish to keep him. At this moment the contract has not been accepted, but Leeds United have had no direct approach from Atletico Madrid or any other club for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink."