Heskey revival helps Liverpool to expose gulf in quality

Ipswich Town 0 Liverpool 6
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The Independent Football

Phil Thompson could hardly keep from gloating. Six goals added to last week's four at Leeds, resurgent Ipswich demolished, the thought that Liverpool could have run up double figures, how's that for a club reckoned to be intent on boring its way to the Premiership title?

The swiftly delivered counter-attack remains central to Liverpool's method but here was further proof of a new dimension. At last there is support from midfield to supplement Emile Heskey's powerful surges and Michael Owen's predatory instincts. At last, Liverpool are showing all their teeth. "It tells you something that our goalkeeper [Andy Marshall] was our best player," the Ipswich manager, George Burley, said. "We were lucky to have only six goals put past him."

No game this season has more vividly emphasised the gulf in class between the Premier League's best teams and its wannabes. Ipswich had won seven of their last eight League games to rise from the depths but mostly against teams of a similar status. Here was reality, the flexing of championship muscle, a defeat so resounding that it will take all Burley's management skills to repair shattered confidence.

If Burley could justifiably claim that Ipswich gave as good as they got until the interval and were unlucky to go in trailing by two goals, the second half was a different story. Reminded by Thompson that, either way, the next goal would be crucial to the outcome, Liverpool went out and put the game beyond Ipswich when Sami Hyypia took powerful advantage of poor marking to head Danny Murphy's corner beyond Marshall's reach.

Two touches of good fortune marked Liverpool's opening goal in the 16th minute, the ball reaching the debutant Abel Xavier via a deflection, then taking another when the whiskered Portugese international shot low through a crowd of players. But their second, two minutes before the break, raised Heskey's reputation another notch.

Throughout a barren spell when he appeared to be more the hesitant finisher of his Leicester days than Owen's perfect foil, Heskey came under no criticism in the Liverpool dressing-room. "The other players appreciated how much work he was doing for the team and knew it was only a matter of time before he got back among the goals," Thompson said. Another, the first of two, came at Portman Road when Heskey coolly pounced on an opportunity Steven Gerrard immediately picked out after forcefully breaking up an Ipswich attack.

If Ipswich's shattered spirit has to be taken into account, on this form no doubts can exist over who should be Owen's strike partner in the England team. Until they were thrown into disarray by Liverpool's passing and movement Ipswich had Owen's measure, but Heskey's strength and control was more than they could handle. No sooner had Hyypia's header put the result beyond question than Heskey was back at the home defence, shouldering off challenges, sprinting into unmarked space, confident that support would quickly show up in the home team's penalty area.

Surely Owen would get his name on the scoresheet and he did. Where once John McGreal had intelligently dealt with Owen, refusing to be sucked in, he began to lose sight of him in the general shambles. When a terrific move involving Gerrard and John Arne Riise tore Ipswich's right flank apart, Owen neatly let the ball run across a despairing lunge to get Liverpool's supporters counting. Then a trademark finish, McGreal outpaced, a spectator to the rising shot that flew past Marshall.

Off came Gerrard to protect a hamstring strain that may cause him to miss England's friendly in Amsterdam on Wednesday, but there was no respite for Ipswich's harrassed defence. Almost with his first touch as Riise's replacement, Nicolas Anelka was through, bringing another good save from Marshall and soon providing the pass for Heskey to notch Liverpool's sixth.

What could Burley do other than concede that his team had been outclassed? He agreed that their passing had fallen apart, that they struggled to match Liverpool physically. "We were overawed in the second half," he said. Ipswich now have three weeks off. By the look of them at full-time it should be spent in therapy.

Goals: Abel Xavier (16) 0-1; Heskey (43) 0-2; Hyypia (52) 0-3; Owen (62) 0-4; Owen (71) 0-5; Heskey (90) 0-6.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Marshall 7; Makin 5, McGreal 5, Venus 5, Hreidarsson 5; Peralta 6, Wright 5 (Stewart 5, 38), Holland 5, Clapham 5, Bent 5; Armstrong 5 (Magilton 5, 71). Substitutes not used: Salmon (gk), Counago, Reuser.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 6 (Arpexhad 5, 55); Abel Xavier 7, Henchoz 7, Hyypia 7, Wright 7; Murphy 7, Hamann 7, Gerrard 8 (McAllister, 81) Riise 7 (Anelka 7, 73); Heskey 8, Owen 7. Substitutes not used: Smicer, Litmanen.

Referee: S Bennett (Orpington) 5.

Man of the match: Heskey.

Attendance: 25,608.

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