Liverpool fail to capitalise on Owen's early strike

Liverpool 1 Portsmouth 1
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The Independent Football

Another profoundly frustrating afternoon for Liverpool culminated in an unlikely equaliser for Portsmouth at Anfield yesterday.

Michael Owen's second-minute strike provided the ideal platform for a convincing victory, but just when it seemed Portsmouth had given up hope, Matthew Taylor, only on the field for 10 minutes, converted his side's only realistic second-half opportunity to set up a replay at Fratton Park on Sunday.

It should have been no more than a consolation but Liverpool's failure to score a decisive second goal - a combination of fine goalkeeping from Shaka Hislop and some sub-standard finishing - left them vulnerable to the sucker punch.

As the match wore on, the home supporters became more and more disenchanted. "Attack, attack, attack," the disgruntled Kop had implored, before and after Pompey's late reply. Gérard Houllier, the Liverpool manager, must only wish it were that simple.

"We should have capitalised on that start," Phil Thompson, the Liverpool assistant manager, admitted. "You have to kill teams off and it's like an action replay for us after the last few games. But we kept trying to come forward, so I don't think we could have done much more."

The Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp, his resources stretched, had to do without the injured international trio of Teddy Sheringham, Steve Stone and the former Liverpool midfielder Patrik Berger, along with John Curtis and Lomana LuaLua, who were both cup-tied.

In the circumstances, the last thing Portsmouth needed was to concede after little more than a minute. Steven Gerrard intercepted a loose ball in midfield and broke forward in typically purposeful fashion. After exchanging passes with Bruno Cheyrou on the edge of the Portsmouth penalty area, he slipped the ball to Owen, who had little difficulty in side-footing past Shaka Hislop. It was the striker's 150th goal for the club and his immaculate first touch made it appear much easier than it was.

Undeterred, Pompey's fluent passing created some half-chances. Nigel Quashie twice shot off target after receiving the ball in space on the edge of the area. Then Ivica Mornar, the Croatian striker signed last month from Anderlecht, found space behind the Liverpool defence and his cross from the byline almost found Yakubu Aiyegbeni on the edge of the six-yard box.

But in deploying two strikers, as well as a playmaker in Eyal Berkovic, in front of a defence that is hardly watertight at the best of times, it was inevitable Liverpool would create plenty of opportunities for themselves.

Deployed in a wide midfield role, Emile Heskey went close twice inside a minute, notably with a drive that Hislop did exceptionally well to tip round the post. Another move with Gerrard and Owen should have finished Pompey off, but Heskey's worst touch of the afternoon sent the ball bobbling apologetically wide.

Despite their patent superiority, Liverpool just could not locate that all-important second goal. Gerrard galloped forward once more but his curling shot went just wide, while Jamie Carragher's drive was repelled by a scrambling Hislop just after.

And how that failure cost them. With 10 minutes remaining, Alexei Smertin crossed, Yakubu created the confusion and Taylor had time to control the ball at the back post before shooting past Jerzy Dudek.

"We came under heavy bombardment in the second half," Redknapp said. "I feared the worst when we conceded the early goal but we hung in there and caught them on the break and now we're looking forward to the replay."

Goals: Owen (2) 1-0; Taylor (77) 1-1.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan, Hyypia, Henchoz, Carragher; Heskey, Hamann, Gerrard, Kewell (Le Tallec, 84); Cheyrou (Sinama-Pongolle, 81); Owen. Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Murphy, Biscan.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Hislop; Pasanen, Primus, De Zeeuw, Stefanovic; Smertin, Faye, Berkovic (Taylor, 70), Quashie; Yakubu, Mornar (Olszar, 56) Substitutes not used: Wapenaar (gk), Schemmel, Hughes.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Booked: Liverpool: Sinama-Pongolle. Portsmouth: Smertin, Pasanen.

Man of the match: Gerrard (Liverpool).

Attendance: 34,669.