Wednesday 11th February 2004 (8pm)
Anfield, Liverpool

About time too Mickey!

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After this game: Pos 4th Pl 25 Pts 37
MATCH REPORT - Liverpool 2-1 Man City

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Owen 3
Wright Phillips 50
Gerrard 51

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Liverpool were left to thank their lucky stars as England duo Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard fired them into fourth place for the first time this season.

Had it not been for goals in each half by Owen and Gerrard, the Anfield men could easily have been embarrassed by unpredictable City, who have now gone 14 Premiership games without a victory.

Owen's strike, his first in nine games, looked to have put Liverpool in the fast lane to a critical victory.

But City, after a dreadful first period, equalised through the excellent Shaun Wright-Phillips and the little wing-back almost grabbed an equaliser in the dying minutes with a chipped shot which was hacked off the line by Sami Hyypia.

By then Gerrard had weighed in with a close-range effort to force Liverpool ahead, but they were nervous and defensive in the final moments.

City had all three of their former Liverpool players on show in David James, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman.

The latter was making his first club appearance back at Anfield since his departure to Real Madrid in the summer of 1999. It was also his first start since January 3, which meant Joey Barton was relegated to the bench.

But McManaman was only a flickering light in an ineffective City side who, certainly in the first period, seemed to have forgotten all that passion and glory from White Hart Lane a week ago.

Liverpool, who fielded the side that drew at Bolton on Saturday and had Emile Heskey and Chris Kirkland back from injury and on the bench, were not much better for long spells.

However Owen looked sharp from the start and was clearly intent on getting himself back on to the goal trail. He forced James to dive at his feet in the first minute and ended his goal drought, which had stretched back to October, after just three minutes.

Bruno Cheyrou was fouled by Daniel van Buyten out on the right, and referee Mike Riley played an excellent advantage to let play continue with Dietmar Hamann threading the ball through to Owen.

The striker went past Richard Dunne and neatly clipped the ball over the advancing James for his first goal since his return from injury six games ago.

There was a pace and hunger about Liverpool that had City stretched, and Hamann was next to get in a shot - a 20-yard effort which bent away from goal at the last moment. But Liverpool soon slipped into the sort of display that has tested the Anfield faithful all season.

The visitors' best efforts came down the right via Wright-Phillips, who was happy to run at Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia, but the support from the rest of his colleagues was minimal.

The swirling fog around the stadium cleared considerably during the break - and so apparently did a few players' heads. Certainly Liverpool started the second period with more purpose.

Gerrard saw an effort from the edge of the box blocked by Wright-Phillips and the City wing-back soon popped up at the other end to score a fine equaliser after 49 minutes.

Michael Tarnat played McManaman into space in midfield and, with Fowler going on a decoy run to his left, McManaman threaded the ball into Wright-Phillip's path and he lashed a low shot into the bottom corner.

But Liverpool were back in front within just two minutes. The ball was lifted into City's box and Owen managed to make contact, with James parrying the effort but allowing Gerrard to lash the loose ball into the net from close range.

Harry Kewell, clearly feeling the effects of his ankle problem, was replaced by Heskey early in the second half.

A minute later McManaman produced a double goal-line block, firstly from an Anthony Le Tallec header and then from Owen's follow-up shot.

McManaman had a far greater influence in the second period but Claudio Reyna and Paul Bosvelt were being totally outplayed in midfield.

Barton eventually replaced Bosvelt with Danny Murphy coming on for Le Tallec in Liverpool's midfield.

City took off the hard-working Jon Macken after 76 minutes, sending Antoine Sibierski into the fray. And he almost scored with his first touch when he rose to flick on a Tarnat free-kick but the ball dropped just wide of the far post.

The introduction of Murphy had signalled Liverpool's intent to defend their lead, and it gave the initiative to City, who suddenly realised they could get something from the game.

With the Kop chanting 'Attack, attack!' at their men to underline their displeasure with the situation, McManaman sent Wright-Phillips in again on the right and his dink over Jerzy Dudek was cleared off the line by Hyypia.

Tarnat then powered in another cross from the left and Sibierski headed just wide of the post. The arrival of another Liverpool defensive player in Igor Biscan from the bench for Cheyrou further annoyed the home fans - but at least there team is back in a Champions League spot.

Press Association

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Liverpool Dudek, Finnan, Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher, Le Tallec (Murphy 69), Gerrard, Hamann, Cheyrou (Biscan 85), Kewell (Heskey 59), Owen.

Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Sinama Pongolle.

Man City James, Dunne, Van Buyten, Distin, Wright-Phillips, Reyna (Barton 68), Bosvelt, McManaman, Tarnat, Fowler, Macken (Sibierski 77).

Subs Not Used: Jihai, Arason, Elliott.

Att: 43,257

Ref: M Riley (W Yorkshire).


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BBC Sports' Ian Dennis post-match verdict

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Match Report filed: 11th February 2004