Owen misfires as Liverpool fail to grasp opportunities

Liverpool 0 Fulham 0
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Liverpool missed their chance to tighten their grip significantly at the top of the Premiership as Michael Owen stumbled over a milestone at an increasingly frustrated Anfield last night.

It was supposed to be Owen's night as he went in search of his 100th goal for the club. He had the invitations, but could not quite find the finishing touch that would have started the party.

Phil Thompson, currently in charge of his goal-scoring prowess, believed that the expectation might have been a factor. "It's always a difficult one," he said. "There's been so much written and said about it, you always wonder whether it will happen. He had his chances and today they just didn't go in."

Liverpool and Owen were kept quiet for the first half-hour, although he did have one shot on the turn, courtesy of Emile Heskey's header that was nothing like powerful enough to trouble the splendidly in-form Edwin Van der Sar.

It was in the minutes leading up to half-time that Liverpool should have made the inroads that would have stretched their lead at the top of the table to six points once more.

Owen had a couple of the sort of opportunities with which he has made his reputation, but Van der Sar got his foot to one shot and the defender's leg blocked the other. It was that sort of night for him.

"We were lucky tonight," Jean Tigana, the Fulham manager, said. "Owen had a couple of chances and if one of those had gone in it would have been very difficult for us to come back."

Steven Gerrard also went close during that potentially decisive spell, but his header looped on to the foot of the post and a dipping volley was helped over by Van der Sar.

It was not, however, a matter of Liverpool bombarding opponents who had come merely to defend, although Fulham's record at Anfield could have brought on something of a siege mentality.

In 20 visits, they have never once won. Although they rode their luck in their own penalty area, they had the opportunities to snatch a little piece of club history last night.

The pace of Luis Boa Morte and the craft of Steed Malbranque, playing in a free role behind the front two, frequently troubled Liverpool and, if Barry Hayles and Louis Saha had not been guilty of over elaboration in the first-half, they could have found a way through.

Liverpool carried their impetus from the end of the first-half into the early stages of the second, however, and a breakthrough looked imminent when Owen hurdled Alain Goma's challenge and slid the ball across, only for Heskey to fail to get the requisite touch.

Gary McAllister's curling free kick then sneaked past everyone to hit the post and Owen's own travails in front of goal continued when he met Jamie Carragher's cross and directed his header straight at Van der Sar.

The Dutch goalkeeper had rather more to do when he was forced to run out and head clear and then get back in time to save Danny Murphy's follow up.

After that, Liverpool's attacks became increasingly frantic, although it was Fulham who had the better chances in the latter stages. It would have been ironic, if not entirely undeserved, if Hayles had directed a free header better or if Steve Finnan had not put an angled shot past the far post.

The Liverpool crowd had come to hail Owen ­ who, according to the local Football Post scored his 99th goal of the season at the weekend. But they ended with their frustration tempered with just a little relief.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 6; Carragher 5, Hyypia 7, Henchoz 7, Riise 5; Murphy 5, (Biscan, 79), Gerrard 6, McAllister 5, Berger 5 (Litmanen, 6, 65), Owen 6, Heskey 6. Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Diomède, Wright.

Fulham (4-4-2): Van Der Sar 8; Finnan 7, Melville 6, Goma 6, Brevett 6; Boa Morte 7, Davis 5 (Legwinski, 6, 58), Malbranque 7, Collins 6; Saha 6, Hayles 5. Substitutes not used: Clark, Taylor (gk), Knight, Stolcers.

Referee: J Winter 5 (Stockton on Tees).