Camara's pinpoint accuracy eases the pain

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A PLAYER who was on the pitch for only 22 minutes in the middle of the match dominated proceedings at The Dell yesterday. He was, of course, the golden boy of English football, Michael Owen.

A PLAYER who was on the pitch for only 22 minutes in the middle of the match dominated proceedings at The Dell yesterday. He was, of course, the golden boy of English football, Michael Owen.

First came the announcement that the 19-year-old striker, an integral part of England's forward line, had been omitted from Liverpool's starting line-up. When Liverpool were still behind early in the second half, he was thrust into the fray.

Twice he was to demonstrate his electrifying pace, only to be adjudged off-side once and then shooting narrowly over the bar after sprinting through the Southampton defence. But minutes after that, Owen limped off, feeling his left leg.

It looked suspiciously like a recurrence of the hamstring inj-ury which kept him out of action for five months earlier this year. It was a worrying sight for many reasons, one which Liverpool's equaliser two minutes later, when they were down to 10 men, only partially alleviated.

No reason was given for Owen's demotion but the Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier may be mindful, as later events seemed to prove, of not overburdening his young striker despite the club's lack of European football this year.

It meant yet another unfam-iliar Liverpool strike partnership in Erik Meijer and Titi Camara. Southampton meanwhile made changes at the front too. Mark Hughes, who has usually played in midfield in his two seasons at the club, was leading the line, presumably to take advantage of Liverpool's perceived defensive aerial deficiencies.

Liverpool were initially the more threatening, though it was not their strikers who made them so. They won most of the balls which mattered in midfield, where Jamie Redknapp controlled most affairs and Vladimir Smicer made some telling runs into the box.

But it was Southampton who provided an example of their opposition's on-going uncertainty at the back when the Matthews, Oakley and Le Tissier combined on the right. Oakley's cross almost caught Brad Friedel out as it narrowly went over.

A couple of minutes later, Redknapp was making his way daintily across the field about 40 yards from goal when Camara spotted the possibility of a shot. He whipped the ball almost from his colleague's toes and his shot skidded along the wet turf towards goal. Paul Jones did well to push it round the post with such assurance.

For a few minutes, Liverpool assumed the majority of possession and openings but as has seemed to be the case so often and so increasingly for a decade, they had nothing to show for it.

Camara burst his way powerfully into the box, causing momentary alarm, but nobody was there to meet his diagonal cross across the face of the goal.

Minutes later, Camara was again involved, running down the left and pulling the ball this time to an unmarked Danny Murphy in the area. He had time to place his shot studiously to Jones's left but it was not strong enough to beat the goalkeeper.

Saints perhaps realised there was less to Liverpool than the sum of their efforts. Friedel almost presented them with an open goal when he dashed from his line to clear the ball only as far as Hassan Kachloul. The reaction was slightly too slow.

Five minutes before half-time, Francis Benali sent in a cross to the far post from the left. Le Tissier sent it back across and Trond Soltvedt was on the other post, ready to take full advantage of a three-yard shot.

Liverpool were again more composed for long periods of the second half. Within two minutes, Benali was forced to fling himself in the way of shots by Murphy and Camara. Saints were keen not to yield their precious lead and might have increased it when Oakley's strong, 35-yard shot brought an exemplary save from Friedel.

Owen's introduction briefly lifted Liverpool. His departure might have deflated them, but Camara's left-foot shot from the edge of the box earned them a point.