Houllier must make own luck
By John May - BBC Sport Online
Ron Atkinson once said: "There are two types of
manager, good ones and lucky ones - and I would rather
be a good one."
On that basis, Paul Sturrock is likely to be around the
Premiership a lot longer than Gerard Houllier.
Sturrock's reign as Southampton boss got off to the
perfect winning start. And it was thanks to a huge smile
from Lady Luck and a world-class keeper in Antti Niemi.
As for Houllier, he headed back to Merseyside, not only
trying to remember when he had run over a black cat but
also attempting to piece together an explanation as to
how Liverpool came away empty-handed from a game they
really bossed from start to finish.
And while Liverpool were unlucky, Houllier will have
come up with something better than that - judging from
the thunderous expressions on the faces of chairman
David Moores and chief executive Rick Parry as they
brusquely asked a steward to be shown to the dressing
They will want answers to the same questions that
Liverpool fans want explanations for.
Questions like, why are Liverpool unable to keep a clean
sheet and how can they concede two goals to a team who
only had two shots?
Questions like, why do certain Liverpool players
consistently under-perform and show a complete lack of
heart for the cause when Houllier has backed his
judgement in bringing them in at vast expense?
England's top striker - and the bearer of the nation's
biggest goalscoring hopes in Euro 2004 - looks a pale
shadow of his former self.
Claims that he is going through a bad patch are looking
hollow as Owen appears to be playing with his mind
elsewhere, which in turn affects his penalty-box
His second penalty miss in successive visits to the
south coast just rounded off a calamitous afternoon for
By the time he placed the ball on the spot, he had
already missed two gift-wrapped chances. The first was
the sort of one-on-one duel with the keeper he used to
put away in his sleep. The second led to him stabbing
the ball against the post from three yards out.
No surprise that his body language spoke of a shrinking
violet when preparing for his penalty. And no surprise
that Niemi made a disconcertingly-comfortable save from
a weak kick.
You could see where one tabloid journalist wanted to
take the post-match press conference as he questioned
Houllier about claims that Owen regularly seeks racing
tips from jockey Kieron Fallon.
Houllier shrugged off the allegations about Owen's
gambling by stating: "That is his own private life."
But Houllier then offered the striker his backing and
added: "Michael is going through a tough period and that
is when he needs his manager to lean on."
Chairman Moores will want to know, though, at what point
his manager thinks a player's private affairs affect his
performance on the pitch.
Unfortunately for Houllier, he visited the last resort
of the desperate by blaming officials, claiming: "The
turning point was when the linesman made a major mistake
for their first goal. How can he miss an offside that
wasn't even close?"
Neither do Liverpool supporters want to hear their
manager sourly and churlishly bleating: "Their
goalkeeper was man of the match - and that tells you
It says nothing to Liverpool fans why their team have
only won once in seven Premiership outings and are
wallowing in eighth place.
In contrast, Sturrock was like a man who had lost a
penny but found a pound.
"The keeper kept us in it," admitted Sturrock, whose
first Premiership half-time team talk must have been
worth listening to.
"We had a few words," added Sturrock, who showed every
sign of being a fast learner.
"People were trying to convince me they were footballers
in the first half. They were playing sideways and
backwards and when they did that they lost the ball."
Sturrock even got his key substitution spot on. He drew
the sting from Liverpool's mounting pressure by boldly
sending on Swedish midfielder Anders Svensson to retain
As happy as he was to start with a win, Sturrock is cute
enough to know that he can only visit the well of good
fortune every so often.
Gerard Houllier has got to stop blaming bad luck and, in
the old football parlance, start making some good luck
of his own.
Gerard Houllier insisted that misfiring striker
Michael Owen will not be dropped from the Liverpool team
and is likely to take the next penalty even after his
second spot-kick miss in a row in the 2-0 defeat at
England ace Owen, who missed at least two other glaring
chances at St Mary's, repeated his blunder against
Portsmouth in the FA Cup last month when Shaka Hislop
saved even with a broken finger.
This time Antti Niemi comfortably stopped the 12-yard
Saints were able to reward new manager Paul Sturrock
with a debut win thanks to goals by James Beattie and
Kevin Phillips while Houllier blamed a blundering
linesman who failed to flag for offside.
"It wasn't just half a yard," said Houllier referring to
Beattie's 52nd-minute opener. "It was three yards. It
was definitely a turning point."
Houllier, with prospects of his side gaining the fourth
Champions League place diminishing, added: "Their keeper
(Niemi) was man of the match. That says it all.
"We don't want to look back but there are so many
reasons to believe we were hard done by. It was that
decision and a lack of clinical finishing which hurt us.
"I'm not worried about Michael Owen, though. He is going
through this bad patch but he will still be in the team
and he might well take the next penalty.
"You are always going to be affected by a tough European
game in midweek, but the linesman changed the game. The
players here at Southampton wanted to impress their new
manager but I didn't think they needed the linesman's
help to that extent."
Houllier is back under pressure, though, even if this
was only Liverpool's second defeat in 12 games.
He made changes in his team after the 1-1 draw with
Marseille in the UEFA Cup on Thursday while keeper Chris
Kirkland is out for six weeks with a fractured wrist.
The afternoon should have been a triumph for Saints
new boss Sturrock on his debut as a Premiership boss but
he admitted Southampton were lucky to win.
He said: "When Anders Svensson came on in the second
half, we looked a different team. I was very pleased
with his performance but I had needed to have a word at
"Some people were trying to convince me they were
footballers. I wanted them to play up and down the pitch
but they wanted to play sideways and backwards.
"Every time they did that we lost the ball. In the end
it was all hands to the pump as Liverpool put the
"But I want this club to climb the league as quickly as
possible and then I can monitor the whole squad."
Saints ride their luck
Southampton striker Kevin Phillips questioned whether
Saints deserved to beat Liverpool at St Mary's.
The former Sunderland hot-shot set up James Beattie for
the opener, then netted a deflected second himself late
But Liverpool had their chances and Antti Niemi was in
good form in the home goal, most notably when he saved
Michael Owen's second-half penalty.
And Phillips said: "We played exceptionally well.
"I don't know if we deserved to win the game - but you
can only win if you take your chances and we've done
"Antti has been outstanding all season - he's kept us in
the game - and we've got players who can score goals.
Phillips has scored six goals in his last seven league
matches and the striker added on Sky Sports: "I'm on a
roll and enjoying my football now - things are looking
Niemi himself said: "Liverpool played well today but
they didn't score so we're more than happy with the
"This is one of the better days - and the penalty save
was very important at the time.
"Everyone wants to impress the new manager (Paul
"His training has been good and things looks good at the
moment - he's done well."
Owen misses hand
By Patrick Goss - Sky Sports
Paul Sturrock's first half-time team-talk as
Southampton manager will go down as a rousing success,
with the Saints emerging from a sluggish first period to
beat hapless Liverpool 2-0.
Liverpool had dominated proceedings for 45 minutes, but
Sturrock's men came out after the break rejuvenated and
took the lead through a fine James Beattie goal, before
wrapping up the scoring with a deflected Kevin Phillips
strike on 85.
The Reds can have little complaint at the result - with
Michael Owen not only missing two guilt-edged chances
from open play but also seeing a controversial penalty
A somewhat dry first half had seen Liverpool dominate
possession, but both sides spurn good chances.
The Reds started confidently and El Hadji Diouf should
have done better after escaping down the right - not
managing to pick out a team-mate from inside the area.
Harry Kewell, looking neat and tidy, handed the
brilliant Steven Gerrard a great opportunity soon after
with a wonderful weighted pass, only for the England
international to curl the ball high and wide when well
Southampton had looked a little lacklustre but after
finally adjusting had a passage of play that saw them
create two good opportunities.
Phillips was involved in both - the lively former
Sunderland man narrowly failing to latch onto a threaded
through ball ahead of Dudek, and then turning provider
with a fine cross that Igor Biscan did superbly to reach
At the other end Antti Niemi produced a marvellous save
to deny Harry Kewell, flinging himself across his goal
to divert the Australian's drive after good work from
But it was Michael Owen that missed by far the most
clear-cut chance of the opening period, racing through
one-on-one against Niemi but seeing his shot saved
The second half saw Southampton come out of the blocks
the quickest and take the lead within 6 minutes.
Beattie had already been denied by Sammi Hyypia's
defending and had a cross float narrowly over David
Prutton's despairing forehead when he broke the deadlock
with a brilliant clipped finish.
The striker raced clear after a misjudgement by Igor
Biscan, passed to Kevin Phillips, and then clipped the
ball over Jerzy Dudek after his strike-partner's heavy
touch had fallen kindly for him.
There was some hint of offside about the goal but all
this was forgotten minutes later when Owen should have
Gerrard's scintillating run and shot was parried by
Niemi to the England marksman yards from goal - only for
Owen to see his hurried effort strike the post when he
should have scored.
If he felt his luck was out after that, he must have
felt that it had deserted him completely when he stepped
up to tamely side-foot a penalty straight at Niemi,
after referee Dermot Gallagher had been fooled by
There appeared to be little contact on the Australian by
Jason Dodd, the incident was certainly not in the
penalty area, and the crowd must have felt there was
With five minutes remaining Phillips turned Biscan and
was delighted to see his shot deflect cruelly off John
Arne Riise and loop over the despairing Dudek to end
Liverpool's challenge, despite a scrambling injury-time
goal-line save from Niemi to deny Kewell a consolation.
Liverpool had an opportunity to underline their
credentials for a Champions League place, but Gerard
Houllier will be forced to concede that Owen's form is a
serious worry in this crucial last period of the season.
Sturrock, on the other hand, will be delighted to have
started his tenure with a win - and will do well to
remember just what he said to his team in the half-time