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Liverpool Echo match report

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY started this season with nothing and still have most of it.

Danny Wilson's men haven't hit the bottom of the Premiership through luck. In fact, they have had to fight and claw their way there with a sequence of results so dreadful that it would make only Liverpool uncomfortable about facing them.

And despite yesterday's convincing scoreline, it was only late in the second half that Liverpool could feel any comfort. Wednesday were remarkably good at Anfield, but the Reds were better. They had to be.

What's more, Gerard Houllier's foreign legion not only proved they could dig in, they also proved they could score quality goals, three of them coming from up and coming Englishmen.

They even had the luxury of being able to re-acquaint Robbie Fowler with senior football 10 minutes from time. A satisfactory afternoon. Wednesday may seem insignificant, but there is a lot less to them than meets the eye. They have now collected six points from 48 are and without a win in seven games.

Morever, the Owls have only claimed one league victory all season and taken just one point on their travels thanks to an own goal. Bad, eh? But it gets worse. Twenty-nine goals have been rattled past them on their Premiership travels, with Niclas Alexandersson's effort taking their offensive tally to five.

And three of those were in one game. Which, of course, they lost. They are the facts, prompting one to assume that either this was a quite hopeless side visiting Anfield or fear that Wednesday were due a dramatic change of fortune. Their display yesterday was anything but hopeless and, yes, they need a change of luck.

Sadly for them, this reversal maintained the status quo at the foot of the table and Wilson's willing lads head down, down, deeper and down towards division one. With Alexandersson outstanding, Wednesday did not perform like a team in trouble, and it said much for their efforts that Liverpool had to play well and score four excellent goals to beat them.

Alexandersson's superb 19th minute opener - a crisp, powerful first time shot from Wim Jonk's rolled free-kick, woke Liverpool from their slumber; a slumber which prevented the Swede from being closed down as he lurked just outside the area. In the not too distant past, such a strike would have jolted the Reds, but they are made of sterner stuff these days. That meant they were quite capable of firing a quick equaliser.

Titi Camara - Liverpool are so much better with him - almost managed it with a powerful blast which rocked Kevin Pressman. However, it was another of their successful summer signings who did.

Sami Hyypia has been a rock ever since he set foot inside Anfield. His Carling Player of the Month award for November will surely not be the last honour he collects on Merseyside.

Hyypia is the complete stopper, and as stand-in skipper he's also a natural born leader. Hyypia is powerful, his distribution is both comfortable and intelligent and although he is tough in the tackle his interventions are clean and precise. No silly fouls, and that's important.

But he showed yesterday there is more to his game than defending, as he rose majestically to plant a powerful header beyond Pressman from David Thompson's deep corner. A Reds centre-back who's dangerous on set-pieces: now there's a thing!

Liverpool's subsequent pressure was to be expected, and Jonk's goalline clearance to deny Michael Owen merely prolonged the inevitable. And what a second goal it was!

Camara's clever dummy allowed David Thompson to collect Rigobert Song's throw and unleash a violent, dipping drive which Pressman pushed out superbly. When a keeper makes a save like that he has every right to believe he has earned a break.

But not many players are capable of the kind of finishing Murphy displayed as a half chance was converted into a goal. The midfielder had to adjust his footing as the ball dropped in his direction and his left foot volley which tore into the net was nothing less than exquisite. Murphy, not for the first time this season, was deployed in an unfamiliar left side role. And, not for the first time, either, he equipped himself ably.

Liverpool's need for victory was three-fold. Firstly they had to show the perpetual doubters that their defeat at West Ham was nothing more than a blip. Secondly, they could ill-afford to drop points in view of those collected by the sides around them.

Finally, there was the confidence factor. The Reds' seven unbeaten league fixtures had not just lifted them to a respectable position, they also enabled them to, on occasions, play with something of a swagger.

However, if Houllier's side thought that its first half toils would be sufficient, it was much mistaken. Wednesday, instead of being deflated, were buoyed at the break and returned for the second period confident of altering the outcome.

That's where Sander Westerveld came in. The Dutch keeper, for all Wednesday's possession, had been generally untroubled, but when Alexandersson unleashed another fierce shot, he dived low to his right to make a smart, important save.

Until Gerrard rescued them, Liverpool's largely inexperienced midfield, which had been so diligent and so productive earlier, suddenly became a worry, offering its rivals far too much space. Rather than making things happen, the Reds simply hoped they would, and the crowd's vociferous concern was not ill-founded.

Indeed, the dangerous Alexandersson was desperately unlucky when another rasping drive bounced inches wide of Westerveld's far post.

It was a timely let-off for the home team, who had been forced on the defensive and had viewed a counter-attack as a respite. But just when they needed inspiring they were inspired in the 68th minute.

Gerrard didn't just step forward, he side-stepped, danced and dribbled past three defenders before finishing decisively. Gerrard is a wonderful talent, a young man with the steel of a Stiles and the style of a Souness. And he couldn't have chosen a better way to fire his first senior goal.

Thompson, tireless and terrier-like, is another who is making sure that seasoned internationals don't sleep soundly. The 3-1 scoreline was already harsh on Wednesday who, considering their position, had fought manfully and played with commendable confidence.

It took a lot for them to be disheartened and they became so 11 minutes from time when Thompson rounded off a superb solo run with a brilliant left foot shot which floated into the far corner. All that was needed then was for substitute Fowler to join him on the scoreline. Still, there'll be plenty of time for that.

MATCH FACTS

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Westerveld; Song (Carragher 72), Henchoz, Hyypia, Matteo; Thompson, Hamann, Gerrard, Murphy (Staunton 76); Owen (Fowler 80), Camara. Subs (not used): Meijer, Friedel.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (4-4-2): Pressman; Nolan, Thome, Walker, Briscoe (Sibon 80); Alexandersson, Atherton, Jonk, Rudi (Quinn 89); De Bilde (Cresswell 78), Booth. Subs (not used): Haslam, Srnicek.

REFEREE: Paul Durkin (Portland). His name says it all. Bad decisions, especially Thompson's booking. Rating: 2.

GOALS: 0-1: Alexandersson (19); 1-1: Hyypia (21); 2-1: Murphy (41); 3-1: Gerrard (68); 4-1: Thompson (79).

BOOKINGS: Thome (27, foul), Rudi (32, foul), Thompson (71, foul), Henchoz (76, foul).

Report by Ric George, Liverpool Echo

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