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Liverpool on song to herald new era

THE PASSING of one of Merseyside's favourite sons and the desertion of another in the previous 48 hours might have been expected to reduce Liverpool fans to shocked silence, if Scousers are capable of such a thing. 

But even the elevation of George Harrison to sainthood and the rescinding of Robbie Fowler's god-like status following his transfer to Leeds could not stifle the music from the Liverpool supporters, nor the eloquence of their team.

Liverpool and their fans, of course, learnt long ago to walk together in the shadow of tragedy. And this result, combined with events at Old Trafford, confirmed that the most significant weekend of the season so far represented not only the passing of an era but the genesis of a new one.

A three-point lead over the rest of the Premiership more than three weeks before Christmas is enough to confirm Liverpool as Premiership title favourites. But the greatest proof that the old order is finally shifting is the sight of United trailing eight points behind the leaders, having played a game more.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side have fallen to such unprecedented depths in the table, in fact, that the Merseyside choir felt confident enough to taunt Derby with chants of: "You're going down with United."

United are clearly not that bad but for Derby relegation is a real possibility, if not a probability, after a run of 11 games without a win. What is more, they look no better under Colin Todd than under the stewardship of Jim Smith.

Liverpool's players could barely keep the smirks off their faces as they emerged from the tunnel, having just watched United's extraordinary defeat by Chelsea. And five minutes into the match, they were laughing out loud when Mart Poom spilled Patrik Berger's shot and Michael Owen had the simplest task of tucking the ball into the net.

It was Owen's 19th goal in 19 games this season, a statistic that shames those fans who insist on continuing to swallow Glenn Hoddle's claptrap that the England striker is not a natural goalscorer.

It was so simple, so predictable and so early that the contest looked as good as over and indeed, Liverpool - with an eye on their Champions League tie against Roma in midweek - simply strolled their way through the remaining 40 minutes of the first half.

Despite his heart problems, manager Gerard Houllier could have sat next to the radio puffing on a large cigar without risk of causing any further concern to his doctors.

In the absence of Craig Burley, Derby gave the captain's armband to Fabrizio Ravanelli, their top scorer with seven goals. And he did his best to galvanise a team on the crest of a slump.

Pride has clearly taken a fall behind the scenes of Pride Park with Giorgi Kinkladze only restored to the substitute's bench after a delegation of his legal advisers made their case to Todd during the week.

Kinkladze is at least a man capable of sprinkling some magic over a game, though Ravanelli and Benito Carbone should have been capable of creating enough of their own.

Instead, they combined to provide a farcical ending to one of Derby's best moves, Carbone's shot cannoning into his team mate's back when it looked headed for the far corner. Ravanelli's 86th-minute penalty miss, his second in a week, completed his misery.

Derby at least showed some self-belief after the break, causing Liverpool's defenders to break sweat for the first time. It was literally pouring off them when Darryl Powell worked himself into space in the area, Jerzy Dudek somehow managing to block his effort.

Poom partly redeemed himself for his early mistake by plucking Danny Murphy's fine header from the air. And Owen slightly sullied his reputation by earning a booking from referee Graham Barber for a little verbal exuberance.

Emile Heskey, back-pedalling to help out his team-mates towards the end, also earned himself a yellow card after conceding a free kick just inside his own half and almost talked himself into a red by continuing to argue his case.

Liverpool fans have flooded their club with complaints after the sale of Fowler. But Owen and Heskey, the preferred partnership of Houllier and caretaker manager Phil Thompson, proved that they are more than capable of continuing to stoke the Kop title fires.

Seven minutes from time, Thompson sent on Jari Litmanen in place of Owen, as if to emphasise the healthy state of his strike force. Derby fans baited their opposite numbers with chants of "there's only one Robbie Fowler", but the Liverpool contingent might have countered with: "Robbie Who?"

Copyright - The Telegraph

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