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Press Association match report

Robbie Fowler made his long-awaited comeback and created a goal in just 26 seconds as Liverpool cruised to a crushing first-leg European success in Slovakia.

This UEFA Cup first round tie is now over for outclassed Kosice, who must by now hate the very thought of facing any more of England's finest. Last season they lost both their Champions League ties to Manchester United by 3-0 scorelines and they suffered the same humbling again in front of their own fans tonight.

Czech ace Patrik Berger, back in his homeland, set the ball rolling with a stunning 30-yarder in the first half and turned in an outstanding display.

Karlheinz Riedle added another soon afterwards and then in the second half Fowler stepped from the bench to make a superb third for Michael Owen with his first touch of the ball.

Liverpool could hardly have hoped for more, especially after the disastrous end to their unbeaten record this season at West Ham on Saturday.

But at the Locomotiva Stadium, Liverpool displayed all their flowing attacking skills, even if the defence at times looked less than convincing. But Liverpool will not want to dwell on those occasional shortcomings.

They were far too good for the Slovakian champions, with Owen frightening the life out of a defence that was allowed to butcher the little England striker almost at will by a very lenient Spanish referee Juan Arceo.

Liverpool, without injured skipper Paul Ince, had Steve Harkness in midfield while Steve McManaman captained the side, with Fowler named for a senior game as a substitute for the first time since he wrecked his cruciate ligament in February.

Owen found himself a marked man, sadly with Kosice defenders taking it in turns to whack him from behind almost at will - a foul that was outlawed in the World Cup finals but does not seem to have filtered through to the Spanish referee.

It was this level of intimidation from the Slovaks that earned Liverpool their first goal. It came after 18 minutes when Marek Spilar clattered Owen 30 yards out from Steve Staunton's tapped free-kick. The outstanding Jamie Redknapp stepped over the ball and Berger unleashed a searing low drive that crashed into the net off the inside of the post.

The Slovaks made a brief response but were stunned again five minutes later when Liverpool snatched their second. McManaman got away from Dusan Toth on the right and fired over a fine cross that was matched by the unmarked Riedle, who powered a six-yard box header past the helpless Ladislav Molnar.

Owen was still receiving treatment and was once again left in a painful heap by Ivan Kozak, who somehow avoided a yellow card.

Liverpool maintained their grip in the second half with Fowler finally getting his first taste of action when he came on as a 58th-minute substitute for Riedle.

And, within just 26 seconds of his arrival on the giant scoreboard, Fowler had created with his first touch a great goal for Owen, threading a perfect through ball into his path. Owen took his revenge on the brutal Slovak defenders in the best way possible by racing away and gliding a side foot shot past Molnar.

It could easily have been more. Berger and Redknapp had combined to put Owen clear and Riedle, Redknapp and Berger again all had chances to punish the home side further.

Liverpool's American keeper Brad Friedel made a superb 65th minute save from Peter Zurik's 20-yard power driver and handled a succession of high crosses with great calmness.

Liverpool finished in total command and the second leg at Anfield in a fortnight is a formality. They will take from this game the knowledge that Fowler is back and can be added to the glittering array of attacking talent they have at their disposal.

But Liverpool's joint bosses Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier will not be blind to the occasional lapses at the back, poor positioning and signs of panic when the ball was in the air.

Teams:
FC Kosice: Molnar, Toth (Prohaszka 67), I. Kozak, Dzurik, Spilar, Sovic, Nemeth, Kozlej (Lubarskij 67), Semenik, Zvara, Kral (J. Kozak 45).
Subs Not Used: Seman, Gerich, Lapsansky, Jambor.

Liverpool: Friedel, Staunton, Babb, McManaman (McAteer 78), Owen, Redknapp (Leonhardsen 83), Harkness, Riedle (Fowler 58), Heggem, Berger, Carragher.
Subs Not Used: James, Kvarme, Bjornebye, Matteo.
Goals: Berger 18, Riedle 23, Owen 59.

Copyright - Press Association

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