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Liverpool Daily Post match report

IF SATURDAY began by staring into the past, then it ended with the focus firmly fixed upon the future.

No doubt Bill Shankly would have nodded approvingly as Liverpool continued a careful evolution perhaps not too dissimilar to the one the legendary Scot initiated 40 years ago.

There may not have been the slick, five-star show which would have provided the ultimate tribute on a day of emotional salutes marking the anniversary of the visionary Scot's arrival at Anfield, but it should be enough that there was a victory.

Indeed, the masses who sent "Shankly" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" reverberating through the winter chill with spine-tingling effect before the kick-off can take more heart from witnessing the qualities that were required to break down Coventry City's dogged resistance than any landslide stroll would have mustered.

Given the way a decade which should have contained so many rewards will actually be remembered by those from within and those on the outside, there should be few dissenting voices at seeing victories founded upon determination and grit; nurtured by team-work and an unstinting commitment and, on this occasion, garnished by two outstanding goals from Michael Owen and Titi Camara.

Scratch below the surface of what was at times an undistinguished and unspectacular performance and even those most cynical of fans with a yearning to continue being force-fed the success they were brought-up on surely cannot help but feel a certain amount of anticipation at the way progress is being achieved under Gerard Houllier's meticulous guidance.

There is nothing surer with Owen clicking through the gears and Dietmar Hamann finding his form andf+t, more importantly,f-t fitness that the free-flowing display of irresistible football everyone craves is not too far away and someone, somewhere will be made to suffer. Hopefully, it will be a Manchester United or Arsenal.

In the meantime, the nucleus Houllier has put in place in almost double-quick time continues to carry Liverpool confidently towards this season's Holy Grail, which is simply ensuring qualification for Europe. The suspicion remains it will be UEFA Cup as opposed to more lucrative Champions' League. . . but one step at a time.

On occasions, the quiet efficiency with which they are currently gaining results in the Premiership is punctured by lapses in concentration and but for wayward finishing from firstly Noel Whelan and then Gary McAllister, an occasion to remember may have instead become one to forget.

Coventry, disciplined, hard-working and unwilling to give an inch, continued to play out the role of party poopers until injury-time in a first-half that was unremarkable in the extreme, barring a 17th minute flashpoint involving Gary Breen's elbow and Owen's nose.

Like the majority of the crowd, referee Andy D'Urso did not see the incident and after consulting with both linesmen it was clear they hadn't either. That he decided to take action on something no-one had seen was wrong, and yet the Billericary official managed to compound that error by flashing a yellow card when surely the only option to him was red.

Not surprisingly, Gordon Strachan erupted like Mount Vesuvius, jumping out of the front row of the directors' box and into the Paddock, using one unsuspecting supporter as a stepping stone in the process, before arriving on the touchline in a blur like the Tasmanian Devil.

Barking out insults, the flame-haired Scot attempted to continue his protests to the official at half-time by which time his mood had darkened further as Owen exacted the ultimate revenge on Breen - if any had been needed, of course.

Liverpool's inability to shake Coventry's stubborn streak had seen David Thompson unceremoniously hauled off after little more than 30 minutes and Vladimir Smicer sent on in his place. The stalemate looked like continuing into the second half until Owen demonstrated his eagerness to make fools of those daft enough to doubt him.

Accepting a pass from Dominic Matteo with his back to goal on the edge of the penalty area, he twisted, bought himself half a yard from the lead-footed Breen and in an instant toe-poked his shot through Magnus Hedman's guard.

It was his first goal in front of the hordes who adore him since February and his relief was almost tangible as he wheeled away to celebrate among them. Having spent last week insisting he was closing in on his best form, Owen ensured no more words should now be needed from him or anyone else.

All round it was an impressive display from the youngster who flitted in and out of Coventry's backline - his runs often ignored, it should be said - and happily tracked back, his confidence nudging towards the sky-scraper levels which will spell danger for the rest of the league.

As ridiculous as it may sound, Owen's protracted quest for what many would regard as perfection may ultimately have been no bad thing for Liverpool.

While he has been feeling his way back, they have found they can rely on others whereas previously he had quite possibly become too much of a focal point. Sander Westerveld continues to impress and made two important saves from Carlton Palmer and Noel Whelan; Steven Gerrard will have had Kevin Keegan taking notes with another fine performance at right-back; while Hamann's ability to anticipate what the opposition is planning is backed up by an almost effortless grace with which he patrols the midfield.

Then there is Camara. His 74th minute blockbuster after collecting a throw-in from Matteo, shrugging off the attentions of Breen and sending a thunderbolt shot from 30 yards which took the slightest of deflections off Owen's back and flew past Hedman sealed victory.

He has the happy knack of scoring good goals, but also vitally important ones as well. None of the African's seven strikes this season have been the third in four-nil romps. Instead they have been winners or equalisers or efforts which have nullified the threat of a comeback as at the weekend.

You can forgive him his moments of wastefulness and try instead to imagine exactly what Shankly would have made of him.

Their respective eras and backgrounds may separate them, but perhaps Shankly and Houllier are really not that different at all. They were and are forward thinking with an insatiable appetite for winning; an unrelenting work ethic applied then as it does now and both men accepted the responsibility of dragging the club up off its haunches.

Only time will tell whether the revolution currently embracing Anfield will bring the rewards of yester-year, but there is little doubt that the Liverpool of today, as the Class of '59 did, are benefitting from a new vision.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Westerveld, Gerrard, Henchoz, Hyypia, Matteo; Thompson (Smicer 35) (Heggem 85), Hamann, Carragher, Berger; Owen, Camara (Murphy 88). Subs: Nielsen, Song.

COVENTRY (4-4-2): Hedman, Telfer, Breen, Williams, Froggatt; Chippo, Palmer, McAllister, Hadji (Normann 75); Whelan (Roussel 70), Keane. Subs: Eustace, Ogrizovic, Gustafsson.

BOOKINGS: Breen (foul 17).

REFEREE: Andy D'Urso (Billericay).

Copyright - Liverpool Daily Post

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