Owen ruins Gullit's day


NEWCASTLE UNITED must be heartily sick of providing thrilling entertainment at Anfield for miserly reward. Even with a two-goal start yesterday they could not get a point, shipping four for the third time in four Premiership visits.

This time they were victims of wretched luck, tiredness induced by having to play with only 10 men for more than an hour, the rough end of the referee's decisions and a rousing Liverpool comeback that saw them score all their goals in the final 23 minutes. Newcastle deserved far better.

Certainly their manager, Ruud Gullit, was thoroughly fed up. "A club like Liverpool does not need favours," he said with an oblique reference to the refereeing of Stephen Lodge. "My players worked very hard here and to protect myself I don't want to say anything more. I wish you all a very happy New Year."

Gullit did not say it but he appeared unhappy at the second booking that caused Dietmar Hamann's sending off after 29 minutes and there was more than a suggestion of handball about Liverpool's second goal.

Hamann's dismissal was crucial although the punchline was a long time in coming, because Anders Andersson was able to add to Nolberto Solano's opener early in the second half before Newcastle were swept aside. Needless to say Michael Owen made up a substantial part of the tidal wave.

"Even when we were 2-0 down we showed the character to keep passing and coming forward," Gerard Houllier, the Liverpool manager, said. "The great thing is it's the first time in a long time since we won three matches in a row."

You do not need a fine grasp of football tactics to know that Liverpool's defence flaps whenever the ball is in the air and it required only 20 seconds for the weakness to be laid bare. Alan Shearer flicked on and Duncan Ferguson's low shot to the far post would have scored but for David James' long arm turning it round the post.

Defining a problem is only half-way to solving it, however, and as Ferguson ruled the roost it was only a matter of time before Newcastle would profit. That time was 28 minutes when the giant centre-forward headed down Stephen Glass's free-kick and Solano charged in to thrash the ball past James.

Newcastle, who were turned over 4-3 in successive seasons here recently, exulted, but the celebrations were cut short almost immediately. Hamann had already been cautioned for a lunge at Steve McManaman that will sideline the England winger for at least two weeks with an ankle injury and when he tripped Patrik Berger he was sent off.

The visitors were furious that Hamann should be booked again for a foul that appeared no more serious than the one Jamie Redknapp had inflicted on Gary Speed in the build-up to the goal and Shearer was also booked in the protests.

If Newcastle were upset it was nothing compared to the home crowd who watched in disbelief as 10-man Newcastle went further ahead after 55 minutes. Phil Babb and Jamie Carragher went for the same ball, became entangled and then allowed Andersson the freedom to swerve round James. Babb almost got back to rescue things, but the shot bounced off his heel and into the net.

Houllier found extra attacking verve in Vegard Heggem. The Norwegian was freed from his defensive responsibilities by the introduction of Jason McAteer and ripped Newcastle apart on the right flank. Even so it seemed Liverpool would be denied as Shay Given produced save after save and it required the lightening reflexes of Owen to launch their comeback.

With Anfield seething with excitement it would probably have been unstoppable anyway and the last thing it needed was any favours. But that was what it got when the referee ignored what appeared to be a handball by Karlheinz Riedle on his way to crashing the ball into the Newcastle net.

That was the pin that deflated the visitors' resistance. Owen got his second after 80 minutes and Riedle matched him four minutes later.

Copyright - The Independent

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