Foottball: Luck and Murphy's lore lift Houllier

Liverpool 2 Murphy 66, Redknapp 69 Derby County 0 Half-time: 0- 0 Attendance: 44,467
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The Independent Online
WITH THEIR first goal helped in by a crucial deflection, their second aided by the lack of an offside flag and a Derby County player hitting the crossbar, perhaps Liverpool have finally rediscovered that element to their play they have been missing in recent seasons - luck.

To reinforce that point, and something that will put a smile on England fans' faces with the Scotland confrontation next week, Michael Owen came through 80 minutes of action with his problematic hamstring apparently unscathed. He was then taken off by his manager, Gerard Houllier, who felt that the striker was ready for international duty: "If he was not fit, he would not have played for me."

Not that this victory was achieved in style; as Houllier admitted, Liverpool were not at their fluent best, while facing a stubborn Derby side who never looked as if their ambition stretched beyond getting a point.

For most of the game it seemed as if Jim Smith's largely negative tactics were going to prevail and stop Liverpool recording their third successive Premiership victory. However, Smith has a longer memory than most in football after a managerial career that has lasted 30 years, and he would have known that it was nearly that many years - February 1970 - since Derby last recorded a clean sheet at Anfield. They were not to get one this time either.

After a first half in which Vladimir Smicer hobbled off injured and only a Jamie Carragher side-footed effort from 25 yards came close to troubling Russell Hoult in the Derby goal, it took Liverpool 21 minutes of the second half to make the breakthrough.

As Houllier emphasised: "Patience was our virtue. We never panicked and we waited until the opportunity was ours. Then you need some individual brilliance and that is what Danny Murphy provided."

It was the England Under-21 international, on for Smicer, who scored the first goal, but it was his contribution 12 minutes earlier that provided the key to the game. With Titi Camara off receiving treatment, Liverpool were down to 10 men and conceded a corner, but when Spencer Prior directed his header on goal, Murphy was there to clear.

Soon after he hit the side-netting at the other end, but that turned out to be a prelude to the mazy run that took him into the penalty box before driving a shot that deflected off the unlucky Prior and into the net for his first league goal.

Liverpool had laboured up to that point, with Derby content to sit back and wait to launch counter-attacks that never came. But after Murphy's strike, Derby were committed to getting on the front foot and as they pushed up, their offside trap was found wanting.

Steve Staunton launched a long ball over Derby's back four that Redknapp chased and, with no flag raised, Hoult raced out of goal, missed the ball and let Redknapp clip his shot into an empty net. That left Derby contemplating their fifth defeat in seven games and languishing uncomfortably close to the relegation zone.

Smith's view on the goal was that "Redknapp was five yards offside", but he felt the damage had been done in the first half when Stefano Eranio was clattered into by Sami Hyypia. Eranio sustained a fractured fibula while Hyypia escaped censure. "Those decisions change games," Smith said. "It was a diabolical tackle and he should have been sent off."

Not that Smith was contesting the overall result, despite Deon Burton hitting the crossbar after 78 minutes, as he added: "Liverpool deserved to win. I was disappointed by the lack of quality going forward."