Football: Superboy does the trick again

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been some eight days in the young life of the Liverpool striker Michael Owen. Two goals at Anfield last Saturday, a full England debut at the age of 18 on Wednesday night and, yesterday, three goals at Hillsborough made him the youngest player to score a hat-trick in a Premiership game. But he hasn't been on the winning side once.

With the Premiership leaders Manchester United engaged in FA Cup business today, Owen's club had the chance to close the gap on them at the top. Sadly for him, a leaky defence again allowed Liverpool's opponents, this time it was Sheffield Wednesday, to score three and limit the Reds' points haul, leaving them four behind United.

However, it was the Owls' Italian midfielder, Benito Carbone, who first registered on the scoresheet when he ran on to the left-back Andy Hinchcliffe's 40-yard pass in the seventh minute and lobbed David James.

Owen's first equaliser, in 27 minutes, came when he latched on to Steve McManaman's precise pass and ran on to coolly beat Kevin Pressman. Liverpool had the lion's share of possession for the rest of the first half but failed to capitalise on it and paid the price 18 minutes into the second half when Paolo Di Canio scored Wednesday's second and the former Everton player Hinchcliffe, put Wednesday 3-1 up in the 69th minute.

Ample time was left for Owen to complete his hat-trick - converting after Fowler hit a post and then accepting Ince's pass to score his third - and salvage that point for Liverpool. But they will have to stop conceding three goals a game if their title challenge is to prosper.

Hinchcliffe's former club had begun to put daylight between themselves and the relegation zone with one defeat in nine games before yesterday's visit of Derby County. But the sending-off of their captain Duncan Ferguson shortly after their other lanky striker, Mikael Madar, had been taken off with a hip injury was the preface to a 2-1 home defeat. The Blues were already without Nicky Barmby, still troubled by the hamstring strain which kept him out of the England B game, and had to make do without Ferguson for 74 minutes when he was dismissed for serious foul play.

The home side had replaced Madar with Danny Cadamarteri after 14 minutes and lost their other target man when Derby's Paulo Wanchope held him back, the tall Scot lashing out in response and flooring the striker. Instead of awarding Everton a penalty, the referee, Steve Dunn, showed Ferguson the red card as Wanchope writhed on the floor and players from both sides squared up.

Derby stormed on to the offensive and when Michael Ball cleared off Everton's line for a corner it was firmly headed in by the Rams' defender, Igor Stimac.

Wanchope, booed by the home fans every time he went near the ball, added insult when he put Derby 2-0 up five minutes into the second half with a tap-in at the end of a four-man move. The substitute Claus Thomsen scored Everton's consolation.