THE ALL-too-familiar sight, these past two seasons, of Michael Owen walking gingerly along a touchline, in the company of a trainer, will have taken the shine off this win for Liverpool fans. The nation's football lovers will also feel aggrieved as it emerged after the game that the injury to his hamstring would rule him out of England's crucial World Cup qualifier with Greece in two weeks' time.
It happened with seven minutes remaining when Owen was sent racing through on goal by Dietmar Hamann. It was probably his first serious run of the afternoon, having come on as a substitute only 15 minutes earlier. The fact that Tottenham's Ledley King was matching him stride for stride may have forced him to push himself harder than he would have liked and, though he still managed to get off a shot, he immediately signalled to the bench for attention as he lay on the floor.
While Liverpool waited eagerly for news of the injury, Spurs were left to count the cost of showing a lack of respect for the finishing of another Liverpool striker, Jari Litmanen, whose excellent goal was all that separated the two sides. The Finn, who has been a peripheral figure this season, reminded the Anfield crowd of his undoubted quality with a goal which few strikers would have have been able to score.
The driving left-wing runs of John Arne Riise had been one of the better features of Liverpool's play in an otherwise below-par performance, and it was as a result of another of these in the 58th minute that they took the lead.
There seemed no real threat to the Spurs goal as the Norwegian played the ball to Litmanen 25 yards out. But with Spurs players backing off, he stepped inside to deliver a superb right-footed shot across the face of Neil Sullivan, the ball rebounding in off the far post.
Gerard Houllier, the Liverpool manager, took the unusual step of omitting Owen and Emile Heskey from his starting line-up, with Robbie Fowler and Litmanen starting a game together for the first time this season. A little surprisingly, also, Houllier chose not to start with Gary McAllister in the absence of the suspended Steven Gerrard.
Tottenham, encouraged by their midweek win at Sunderland, began much the brighter of the two sides and had Nicky Barmby not had his wits about him they would have taken the lead in the second minute, when a fierce, far-post header from Les Ferdinand after a Christian Ziege corner was blocked on the line by the England player.
Liverpool struggled to get any sort of grip on the game and, apart from a speculative left-foot volley form Gregory Vignal, following a clearance from Chris Perry, which struck the top of Neil Sullivan's crossbar, they posed a minimal threat to Spurs in the first half-hour.
Even when Liverpool did begin to stir the crowd, Spurs continued to pose the greater threat. Mauricio Taricco put a pass over Gustavo Poyet's right shoulder only for the Uruguayan to completely miss the ball.
As if shaking off the rust, Litmanen and Fowler eventually came into the game in the final 15 minutes of the first half. The Finn spun on a pass from Igor Biscan to shoot into the side-netting and then Fowler, who needs to do little to raise a cheer at Anfield, slipped as he took a pass from Barmby but got straight up to fire in a shot, unfortunately for him straight at Sullivan.
It was not until the 43rd minute, however, that Liverpool really gave the crowd something to shout about. Hamann played a perfect ball through the heart of a Spurs defence which, until then, had stood firm. Litmanen was on to it in a flash but his shot was too close to Sullivan, who was able to save at the second attempt. The excitement had barely subsided when, at the other end, Jerzy Dudek failed to hold a low shot from Ziege and a Liverpool defender had to hack the ball to safety.
Spurs kept plugging away and, early in the second half, Stephane Henchoz was forced to clear his lines when Poyet played a ball into the channel for Ferdinand, but his shot lacked power and gave the Swiss defender the chance to remedy the situation.
Once Litmanen had scored, Liverpool attacked with greater enthusiasm and self-belief. In the very next minute the Finn set up Barmby but he shot disappointingly wide. The arrival after 59 minutes of Heskey followed eight minutes later by Owen gave a more familiar look and Liverpool immediately responded to their arrival. Barmby finally got round Ziege, who was having a fine game on his return to Anfield, but there was no one to convert his cross.
A more familiar Liverpool side should give a better account of themselves against Dynamo Kiev, in their Champions League match on Wednesday, but they will have to cope without their leading scorer after his mishap.
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