England men to the fore with six

Ipswich Town 0 Liverpool 6
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The Independent Online

It was a brutal, callous slaying, to which the victim simply had no defence. From the moment that Abel Xavier, of all people, scored his first goal in English football to yield Liverpool a somewhat fortuitous early lead, the visitors simply ran amok.

Significantly, their England men – Michael Owen, Emile Heskey, who both bagged a brace, Danny Murphy and Steven Gerrard – were all prominent in a consummate display, although the latter had to be substituted in the second half with a "tightening hamstring" and is extremely doubtful for Wednesday's friendly against Holland.

And just when Ipswich appeared to be convalescing nicely from their early-season sickness, too. After this, they'll all be on the treatment table, to receive grief counselling. The Ipswich faithful could only witness the ritual humiliation of their side in admiration, occasionally even being moved to applause by a Liverpool exhibition which nudged the Anfield men into first place. Never mind the Tractor Boys – these were the Steamroller Scousers.

The Ipswich manager George Burley, admitted: "We were fortunate to get away with 6-0. It was men against boys. Owen and Heskey are two of the best attacking players in the world and they're on top of their form. Thankfully, we don't come across them every week."

After accounting for Manchester United and Leeds in their recent sequence of four victories, Liverpool are providing a stinging response to those who doubted acting manager Phil Thompson's ability to motivate a team. "A fantastic display," concurred the club's former defender. "The work-rate, the hunger and the finishing, were quite magnificent. There's a drive and passion about our play at the moment and it's getting the rewards we deserve."

The class division is rarely so pronounced, even in a Premiership of such disparate talents. At times, it was as if Burley's men were transfixed with fear. Their passing and movement were indifferent and even their normally full reservoir of spirit appeared depleted. "We were overawed in the second half," agreed Burley. "It tells you something when our best player is the keeper and we still lose 6-0."

Ipswich had won seven out of their previous eight Premiership games and Europe rather than relegation was the audacious hope of their most optimistic followers. Yet, as even their most vociferous advocate would concur, that sequence had not been achieved against Championship-chasing sides.

Murphy was particularly effective during a first quarter hour in which Liverpool exposed Burley's men far too frequently for home comfort with their classic, counter-attacking strategy. The Liverpool midfielder was nearly the beneficiary of a fine move initiated by himself, involving Xavier and and a confident Heskey, but Andy Marshall plunged at his feet to save. The Ipswich goalkeeper was again in action minutes later, this time denying Heskey from close range.

Town's fortune looked unlikely to hold and it finally failed them after 16 minutes, albeit from an unlikely source. Ipswich failed to clear Murphy's corner, Gerrard's ball back in deflected obligingly off Hermann Hreidarsson for Xavier and, although the Portuguese international's drive from the edge of the area looked innocuous enough, it deflected off Chris Makin past the unfortunate Marshall. Some heartless souls might have declared it an own goal, but so unique was the goal it would have been churlish to deny old "Neptune" his moment.

The goal stirred Ipswich from their torpor and Sixto Peralta brought a fine low save from Jerzy Dudek. There were invention and industry but no incisiveness from the home side, who lost Jermaine Wright with a thigh injury and replaced him with Marcus Stewart eight minutes before the break. It was not Stewart's day, either. He went to hospital for a precautionary scan following an elbow into the jaw. He had only recently returned to action after breaking it.

Two minutes before the interval, it was Liverpool who struck again, when Gerrard's spendidly delivered ball through the left-wing channel provided Heskey with the kind of invitation he relishes. He controlled the ball faultlessly to steer a left-foot drive adroitly past Marshall. Following his two goals against Leeds, it was scored with the insouciance of a man overflowing with confidence.

After the interval, Thompson's men didn't require long to put the issue beyond their hosts. Owen and John Arne Riise had already produced saves from Marshall when, seven minutes into the half, Murphy's corner found the head of Sami Hyypia and the Liverpool captain's power and direction gave Marshall no chance.

Pegguy Arphexad came on to replace Dudek, who had been carrying a groin injury, but whose absence was scarcely noticed. Just after the hour, a scintillating move involving Riise and Gerrard culminated in Owen converting a fourth with minimal fuss. Neither was the England striker fazed when Xavier and Heskey fashioned him a chance a few minutes later.

Just in case anyone was concerned that Liverpool might be deficient in striking power, Nicolas Anelka emerged from the bench and, in the final minute, combined with Owen to breach the home defence for the umpteenth time and provide a chance for Heskey which he duly took.

In the latter stages, Ipswich attempted valiantly to regain some pride, as substitute Jim Magilton volleyed over when well placed, but Liverpool were so far ahead of their rivals that they were effectively showered, dressed and halfway up the motorway.

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