Hamann is doubly dangerous

FA Premiership: Owen underlines his point to England coach as German midfielder fires warning shots
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So that's what a spell on the England bench does for Michael Owen. The rather insolent expression on the impish face of the young man celebrating his 100th League game for Liverpool yesterday said something to the effect of "Pick that one out, Kevin" after the England striker had claimed his fifth goal in three matches in eight days. Eleven minutes into a rumbustuous contest, the point to the England coach had been emphatically made.

So that's what a spell on the England bench does for Michael Owen. The rather insolent expression on the impish face of the young man celebrating his 100th League game for Liverpool yesterday said something to the effect of "Pick that one out, Kevin" after the England striker had claimed his fifth goal in three matches in eight days. Eleven minutes into a rumbustuous contest, the point to the England coach had been emphatically made.

Yet, ultimately, it was nearly another two carelessly relinquished by Liverpool. Having sacrificed a three-goal lead at The Dell, here they played without true conviction for an hour, gained the two goals that flattered them, then contrived to jettison their advantage.

Indeed, had the England coach been present, his pleasure at Owen's continued potency and, indeed, the sight of Steven Gerrard surviving two games in a week - although he sat out the final 22 minutes when he was replaced by the £5.5m signing Christian Ziege - would have been considerably diminished by the sight of Dietmar Hamann's lust for goals.

Such venom and accuracy from the German midfielder do not bode well for England's World Cup qualifying campaign when the two nations meet at Wembley next month.

For too much of this contest, Liverpool gave the impression that despite the visitors' eclipse of Leeds in midweek, Joe Royle's arrivistes would be seen off comfortably. They weren't, and once George Weah was introduced 10 minutes into the second half Liverpool's rearguard, deprived of Sami Hyypia, looked anything but secure. When Hamann settled the matter eight minutes from time with the second of his two exquisitely struck goals, the approval of the Kop faithful was more one of relief than outright jubilation.

"We are not playing well at the moment," the Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier, agreed. "But you've got to praise the players. We showed the guts and character to regain the lead."

His team looked particularly destabilised by the absence of Hyypia, who is also likely to miss Thursday's Uefa Cup tie against Rapid Bucharest. The Finn was replaced as captain by Jamie Carragher and in central defence by Markus Babbel, but Liverpool lacked authority on retreat, a deficiency not assisted by an unconvincing performance by the goalkeeper Sander Westerveld. He had been prepared for the game by Joe Corrigan, the former City stalwart and now Liverpool's goalkeeping coach. On the evidence of his lack of certainty when confronted by the visitors' aerial threat, the Dutchman is due some lengthy overtime on the training pitch.

During a first half largely uneventful but for Owen's goal, Liverpool were unsteady in defence and deficient in ideas going forward. With the one chance presented to him by Heskey before the break, however, Owen, on target for England a week ago and three times against Aston Villa in midweek, was yet again at his incisive best.

Heskey controlled Rigobert Song's throw excellently on his chest and then delivered a beautifully weighted ball through the visitors' rearguard. It was like blood to a shark as Owen flicked the ball round the City keeper Nicky Weaver with the minimum of elaboration. It was Owen's seventh goal for club and country this season.

Otherwise, apart from a Babbel header and a Hamann free-kick, which both skimmed past the same side of Weaver's post, there was little to commend Liverpool's attacking intent. Royle was becoming increasingly irritated by the referee Graham Barber's judgements against his men. But his ire might better have been directed at his players' failure to convert two inviting chances, with Paul Dickov and Paulo Wanchope the culprits.

Liverpool emerged from their half-time address by Houllier with manifestly greater vigour and purpose. Gerrard began increasingly to exert his influence on the right while Nicky Barmby dominated the opposite flank.

Heskey was involved in an unsavoury incident involving Spencer Prior, when the City defender accused him of diving in the area. Heskey might well have been dismissed after appearing to slap his accuser in the ensuing spat, but escaped with a caution. Later Royle suggested pointedly: "The PFA [Professional Footballers' Association] should name and shame the divers."

When he concentrates on staying on his feet, Heskey is proving a capable provider. He again released Owen, but this time Weaver advanced off his line smartly to block the attempt. Owen looped the rebound into the area and Heskey headed goalward, only for Steve Howey to clear off the line. It was Liverpool's most dominant period and when Hamann unleashed a meaty volley past Weaver there appeared no return for City.

However, Royle immediately brought on Weah for Mark Kennedy to reinforce City's attack. The substitution began to show effect when the former World Player of the Year headed straight at Westerveld from Kevin Horlock's free-kick. It paid tangible dividends when the Liberian finished with considerable aplomb after Dickov had created the chance. Weah continued to tantalise the home defence and when he found Alf Inge Haaland in the area, Djimi Traoré dashed in with a reckless challenge that could only have one conclusion: Horlock duly drove home the equaliser from the spot.

But just as City believed that they had achieved their fourth away point in a week, Hamann struck, with typical venom, from a Ziege throw-in to stir the hearts of Liverpool's fans butinstil trepidation in that of their former favourite, Keegan.

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