Owen and Liverpool catching up rapidly

Liverpool ultimately broke down Blackburn's 10-men resistance to reinforce their belief that they can win the Premiership this time after a shaky start to the season.

Both teams were condemned for their cautious approach to the equivalent fixture last season and seemed intent on redressing the balance. An explosive opening 16 minutes produced a magnificent goal by Matt Jansen, an equaliser by Michael Owen from the penalty spot and a red card for Lucas Neill. Liverpool retained a full complement of players through the first half but had Milan Baros and Jamie Carragher carried off.

Baros was injured by a perfectly legal tackle from Markus Babbel, one of Blackburn's three former Liverpool players. However, Carragher departed following a challenge which led to Neill's dismissal.

Barry Ferguson, making his debut for Blackburn after his £7.5 million transfer from Rangers, can scarcely have experienced many more dramatic Old Firm encounters.

Brad Friedel and David Thompson also faced their former club but, of all the Anfield exiles here, no one was keener to win than Graeme Souness. He kept a low profile during the build-up and Tony Parkes revealed that the Scot was "different before Liverpool games".

The former Anfield player and manager made way for Ferguson by leaving out Tugay. He was relegated to the bench, joining illustrious names such as Dino Baggio and Dwight Yorke.

Babbel left an instant impression on his home debut. His seemingly innocuous tackle left Baros in distress and the striker was carried away after just two minutes.

Liverpool were to suffer again six minutes later. Andy Cole flicked on to Jansen who appeared to be covered by Carragher. But the striker turned him inside out before beating Jerzy Dudek from the edge of the area.

Blackburn were allowed no time to enjoy the lead. Friedel saved splendidly from Sami Hyypia yet could not prevent Liverpool's equaliser after 11 minutes. El Hadji Diouf lured Vratislav Gresko into a mistimed challenge and the referee pointed to the spot. Owen converted, low to Friedel's left.

The pendulum swung Liverpool's way in the 16th minute, when Neill was dismissed. He claimed Carragher had raised a foot but it was the Liverpool player who was carried off.

Blackburn were fortunate not to go behind in the 27th minute. Steve Finnan's routine centre should have been dealt with by Friedel or Babbel, yet neither took command, although they cleared before Liverpool were able to capitalise.

Liverpool ought to have been ahead by half-time. Harry Kewell's shot was deflected over and Owen spurned a glaring opportunity in the 32nd minute. He was waved clear to confront Friedel, despite pleas for offside, but the goalkeeper stood firm and the England striker shot tamely, straight at him.

Friedel responded splendidly again, tipping over a shot from Steven Gerrard and then taking the ball from Owen's feet. A last-ditch tackle by Gresko denied Owen again.

The pressure told after 67 minutes. Babbel was too easily outfought by Vladimir Smicer, who set up Owen and this time the finish was emphatic.

Baggio was booked and missed a chance in his cameo of a debut and Owen was twice more denied by Friedel before Kewell scored the third, two minutes from the end.

Team details

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Amoruso, Babbel, Gresko, Emerton, Flitcroft (Tugay 70), Ferguson, Thompson (Yorke 64), Cole, Jansen (Baggio 64).
Subs Not Used: Johansson, Kelly.
Sent Off: Neill (13).
Booked: Amoruso, Baggio.
Goals: Jansen 8.

Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan, Biscan, Hyypia, Carragher (Riise 18), Diouf, Gerrard (Le Tallec 85), Smicer, Kewell, Owen, Baros (Heskey 5).
Subs Not Used: Traore, Luzi Bernardi.
Booked: Finnan, Smicer.
Goals: Owen 12 pen, 68, Kewell 90.

Att: 30,074
Ref: N Barry (N Lincolnshire).

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