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Robson and Houllier sign off with smile

After all the months of anguish and doubt, Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier and Newcastle's Sir Bobby Robson both managed to end the season with a smile on their faces. Houllier, whose team had already won back a place in the Champions League, was happy to avoid closing the season in defeat, while Robson has the crumb of another tilt at the UEFA Cup after missing out on the big one.

If England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson had been here, he would have been another smiling manager after one final impressive performance by Liverpool's outstanding midfield star Steven Gerrard, which culminated in a devastating pass to make a goal for Michael Owen, his second in successive games.

It was Owen's 16th Premiership goal of the campaign, a decent return given all his injury problems. And he now goes off to the European Championship full of confidence.

The only disappointment was that this game, billed weeks ago as a shoot-out for the last Champions League place, was reduced almost to insignificance, at least for home fans, after Newcastle blew that plot-line by drawing 3-3 at Southampton in midweek.

All week, the only talking point on Merseyside has been whether Liverpool would take £70 million of blood money from Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose human rights records rivals that of General Pinochet, or a similar amount from local businessman Steve Morgan, who had Houllier spitting blood after criticising his team and his spending policy.

As for Newcastle, their bloody-minded chairman Freddy Shepherd has been complaining that his underachieving side have blown £20 million by failing to beat Liverpool to the final Champions League spot, raising fears about Robson's future. Despite the UEFA place, Shepherd will no doubt repeat the claim by former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates that it is a competition that does not bring in a brass farthing. Glory does not get a second look-in these days when the accountant is king.

Houllier described finishing fourth as a "massive achievement" which, considering Bolton Wanderers were only a few points behind them, surely meant that, in modern football parlance, he was having a laugh.

The end of the season is at least a time to let bygones be bygones. So Kop fans unfurled a flag that read 'Gerard's Heart Beat', which made you wonder where all those angry Scousers demanding his dismissal on football phone-ins come from. Geordie fans also expressed their views by singing: "There's only one Bobby Robson".

Newcastle have suffered so many injuries that anyone half fit was pressed into action. This included Lee Bowyer, who after 25 minutes of aimless roaming, surprisingly found the through ball that set up a finely-taken goal by Shola Ameobi.

Within 15 minutes, Ameobi came off to add to the beleaguered physio's workload, Craig Bellamy coming on to prove that some players do eventually find their way out of the treatment room.

Houllier delved into the statistics book in an attempt to disprove Morgan's claim that his team are boring, saying they proved that his team produced 15 shots a match. The problem is that 14 of them come from Emile Heskey, who hoiked a first-half chance over the crossbar and then pitifully miscued an effort early in the second.

Liverpool at least raised their tempo, if not their game, in the second half, though Newcastle should have had a second when Alan Shearer headed down Bowyer's cross and Jamie Carragher somehow blocked Darren Ambrose's follow up.

In desperation, and he really is one of Liverpool's desperate buys, Harry Kewell threw himself down in the box, which so incensed Ambrose that the pair got involved in a pushing match which ended with a yellow card apiece.

Robson, of course, has never won at Anfield as player or manager so he must have expected to suffer a few more slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. As it turned out, it was a piece of outrageous talent that earned Liverpool an equaliser, Gerrard bending in a 30-yard pass from the right wing that was tucked in by Owen.

Liverpool fans sung out the remainder of the season and the only thing that could have raised emotions higher would have been a debut for young goalkeeper Paul Harrison, who sat out the 90 minutes on the bench. His father Gary, aged just 27 at the time, was among the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough in 1989.

Harrison, whose uncle, Stephen, was also a Hillsborough victim, would have been pleased to note the fresh flowers and newly laid scarves laid by the memorial at the Shankly Gates to mark another season's anniversary of their deaths, a reminder that Shankly's most famous saying should never be taken literally.

Match details

Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Murphy, Hamann, Gerrard, Kewell, Heskey, Owen.
Subs Not Used: Henchoz, Baros, Sinama Pongolle, Cheyrou, Harrison.
Booked: Kewell.
Goals: Owen 67.

Newcastle: Given, Griffin (Caldwell 79), O'Brien, Bramble, Hughes, Ambrose (Robert 82), Bowyer, Speed, Dyer, Shearer, Ameobi (Bellamy 40).
Subs Not Used: Harper, Viana.
Booked: Ambrose.
Goals: Ameobi 25.

Att: 44,172
Ref: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

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