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Heskey and Owen back in the old routine

Michael Owen and Emile Heskey, England's first-choice striking partnership until you-know-who came along, shared goals on the Anfield stage for the first time this season to put Liverpool in the best frame of mind for their neighbourly showdown with Everton, upon which a Champions League place could well rest.

It was a pleasing way for Gerard Houllier's side to emerge from the nightmare of Old Trafford the previous weekend. Liverpool's dominance was total and assured, the sweet satisfaction of a job well done spoiled only by the acknowledgment that both Chelsea and their Merseyside rivals had also won to leave it as-you-were in the chase for fourth place.

Only Louis Saha's late riposte, which shook the crossbar, threatened the home team's easy supremacy. This should have been a far more decisive victory, Owen misfiring from the kind of range that gives solace to all park players while Milan Baros frustratingly lost control of the ball when presented with the opportunity to finish off a move of rare sublimity.

Liverpool can not afford to be so generous at Goodison Park in six days' time where Wayne Rooney lies in wait. Like every other Evertonian, the wunderkid is fired by a desperation to finish above their bitter adversaries for the first time since winning the top-flight title in 1987. In comparison overcoming a Fulham side lacking soul and soon to be managerless was child's play.

Danny Murphy hurt his neck in the warm-up, giving Vladimir Smicer an opportunity he was to grasp with both hands after a tentative start. He had a part in both goals and became a dominant figure in the game. As was Steven Gerrard, who found his range of passing from the off and helped maintain the pressure on a visiting team who have never won here.

Fulham were defending from the first whistle, Owen finding the net in the fifth minute only to be flagged offside. Having missed last week's demise in Manchester with a back problem, he was clearly out to make his mark, constantly involved and elusive in his movement. One mazy run midway through the first half took him past a clutch of defenders but Maik Taylor was able to block.

Just before that, the goalkeeper had done well to frustrate Baros as Liverpool's incisive football became more and more telling. Fulham had just enjoyed their first promising spell of the afternoon, Sean Davis forcing Jerzy Dudek to turn aside a fierce 20-yarder, when they fell behind.

First, Owen ignored the option of Heskey's run into space only to find Taylor equal to a heavy hit on goal. Liverpool were back with a menacing posture two minutes later as John Arne Riise's free-kick in from the right brought more anxiety to the Fulham rearguard. Sylvain Legwinski won the first header but the second ball, that area of activity which every coach uses to gauge his team's competitiveness, was claimed by Smicer and that gave Heskey the means to hook home his ninth of the season.

There was almost a superlative goal to trump that - and just about every other Premiership strike this season - when a dazzling exchange involving Dietmar Hamann, Owen, Gerrard (twice) and finally Smicer presented Baros with a wonderful opportunity. A poor first touch denied Anfield something special to savour.

For all Saha's sporadic, but skilful, touches and the diligence of Steed Malbranque, Fulham had shown nothing to raise expectations that they could overcome the deficit and, with a difficult five-game finale, Jean Tigana's men are still not out of the relegation woods. They have conceded nine goals in three successive defeats and scored none.

Dudek, who had erred badly in the Loftus Road fixture, nearly threw them a lifeline with a poor clearance. The visitors might have been two down at that stage, Taylor continuing his defiance as Smicer became the latest to miss out. A smart Gerrard-Smicer combination than laid a goal on a plate for Owen.

His miscue was embarrassing but the chance for redemption arrived came within 60 seconds as Smicer played him through and Owen easily claimed his 23rd of the campaign.

Match details

Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Traore, Hyypia, Riise, Smicer (Cheyrou 90), Gerrard, Hamann, Heskey, Baros, Owen.
Subs Not Used: Arphexad, Diao, Biscan, Mellor.
Booked: Heskey.
Goals: Heskey 36, Owen 59.

Fulham: Taylor, Finnan, Melville, Djetou, Wome (Ouaddou 57), Legwinski, Davis, Malbranque, Boa Morte (Hammond 68), Marlet (Sava 78), Saha.
Subs Not Used: Herrera, Clark.
Booked: Wome, Boa Morte.

Att: 42,120
Ref: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

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