Press Association match report

A year ago, Michael Owen scored in Liverpool's first match of the season at Wimbledon. That was only his second full appearance and the rest of the Premiership was given just a glimpse of what to expect.

This time around, they know only too well what the 18-year-old England striker is capable of, after 23 goals last season and a World Cup in which he earned himself a worldwide reputation with 'that goal' against Argentina.

Yet even though Owen was closely marked everywhere he went at The Dell, he still managed to score one goal, set up another and ensure Liverpool left the South Coast with three points after a 2-1 victory over Southampton.

Owen's performance grew as the match went on. In the first-half he was relatively quiet, only escaping the close attentions of markers Claus Lundekvam and Richard Dryden twice.

On the first occasion, after Paul Ince had tested out keeper Paul Jones in the opening 15 seconds with a 25-yard drive, Owen created an opening for himself with a shimmy and a change of pace but Jones was equal to it and pushed the ball around the post.
The next time, he found space on the left flank and swung over a measured cross which Riedle powered past Jones seven minutes before the break.

Roy Evans was full of praise for Owen: "He's always going to get chances to score but it's about the team, he'll tell you that himself," he said. "He's an exceptional young lad and the first goal was down to him and other players getting the ball forward. His confidence should get better and better but he remains very focused and his family will keep him on the straight and narrow."

By the time the goal had been scored , however, Liverpool's continued defensive frailties had been exposed by the aerial dominance first of Saints new signing Mark Hughes and then Egil Ostenstad as he capitalised on a deflected cross from Stuart Ripley to head home the opener.

A porous defence proved to be the Reds' downfall last season and even though they have been strengthened by the additions of Steve Staunton and Vegard Heggem on the flanks, the same gaps opened up in the middle from time to time at The Dell.
The lack of a commanding presence in the centre of their defence may cost them dear this season, whatever feats Owen manages up front.

After all, this was a Southampton side without Matt Le Tissier for much of the game and minus Kevin Davies, who left for Blackburn in a £7.5million move over the summer.

Midway through the first-half, Hughes also managed to find space to fire into the side-netting, before escaping even a booking for an apparent forearm into the face of keeper Brad Friedel soon afterwards.

Chances were more at a premium in a tight opening to the second-half but the clearest opportunity fell to Owen. He raced clear of the defence following a pin-point through-ball from Riedle in what initially looked like it would prove a repeat of his goal in St Etienne. But his first touch remarkably let him down and advancing keeper Jones was able to smother the ball, as Owen hung his head.

The striker remained undaunted, however, and on 72 minutes, he made Southampton pay for gifting him space in the penalty area. With defender Jason Dodd still attempting to make it back onto the pitch after treatment, Staunton launched a long throw-in which Paul Ince flicked on and keeper Jones was only able to push the ball out as far as the teenage prodigy, standing 10 yards out.

Owen reacted instantly, powering home a volley on the turn to leave the net billowing and the rest of the Premiership quaking.

Le Tissier was finally brought into the action in the second-half after being left on the bench in favour of Manchester City loan signing Scott Hiley, while even youngster Wayne Bridge came on ahead of him when John Beresford was injured early on.
Following his introduction, Southampton chased the game and opened up the Liverpool defence on at least three occasions - only to see their efforts thwarted.

First substitute James Beattie, another summer signing, from Blackburn, forced Friedel into a wonderful diving save, while Le Tissier was just inches away in the dying seconds when he dragged his shot just wide of the far post.

Still there was time for Owen to almost score another, just failing to capitalise when a shot from Ince was blocked in the penalty area. By that time, however, he had more than done enough.

Copyright -  Press Association

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