After The Match 


SOUTHAMPTON-LIVERPOOL 2-0 (0-0)    Sun March 14.     Premier League
Goals: Beattie (51), Phillips (85)
Team: Dudek, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Biscan, Diouf, Gerrard, Hamann, Kewell, Owen, Baros
Subs: Heskey (Diouf 59), Riise (Henchoz 73)
Not used: Luzi, Traore, Murphy
Yellow: Hamann (81)   McCann (40), Telfer (62), Lundekvam (88)
Red: None
Referee: Dermot Gallagher
Attendance: 32,056

                                                            FIXTURES & RESULTS 
Shots on target: 3-12
Shots off target: 4-6
Fouls conceded: 20-8
Corners: 1-7
Yellow: 3-1





"I'm not worried
about Michael Owen."

                Gerard Houllier

1503: Houllier must make own luck
1403: Houllier backs misfiring Owen
1403: Saints ride their luck
1403: Owen misses hand Sturrock win


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 room.

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 sharpness.

His second penalty miss in successive visits to the south coast just rounded off a calamitous afternoon for Owen.

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 everything."

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 the ball.

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.

Houllier backs misfiring Owen

Sporting Life

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 Southampton.

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 effort.

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 half-time.

"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 pressure on.

"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 on.

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 that today."

"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 good."

Niemi himself said: "Liverpool played well today but they didn't score so we're more than happy with the three points.

"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 Sturrock).

"His training has been good and things looks good at the moment - he's done well."

Owen misses hand Sturrock win

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 saved.

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 placed.

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 before Beattie.

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 Milan Baros.

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 superbly.

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 levelled.

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 Kewell.

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 some justice.

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 break.

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Thor Zakariassen