Sunday 14th March 2004 (4pm)
St Marys Stadium, Southampton

Owen. Misses. Again.

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After this game: Pos 8th Pl 27 Pts 39
MATCH REPORT - Southampton 2-0 Liverpool

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Beattie 51,
Phillips 85

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After the death threats and the graffiti this season, the last thing Gerard Houllier needs now is a touch of the shakes in front of goal from Michael Owen.

But the England marksman, once so deadly, crowned a spate of misses at St Mary's with his second wasted penalty in a month, allowing Southampton's brilliant Finnish goalkeeper just as easy a save as Portsmouth's Shaka Hislop made in the FA Cup in February.

Owen had already failed to beat Niemi in a one-on-one in first-half stoppage time and remained on just 12 goals for the campaign when he stabbed against a post with the goal gaping five yards in front of him just before the hour mark.

So Southampton added to their victory earlier in the season over Manchester United by completing a notable double over the Anfield side thanks to James Beattie's goal soon after the interval and Kevin Phillips' deflected shot near the end.

It was a wonderful start for new manager Paul Sturrock, who saw his side make a sluggish start, showing exactly why they had won only one game in the previous 11 under Gordon Strachan.

But this, in the end, was all about another miserable afternoon for Houllier and Liverpool.

The manager, who brought in Igor Biscan for Steve Finnan at right back, finished with egg on his face when the Croatian blundered for the opening goal.

After Niemi saved impressively early on from Harry Kewell's cross-shot and El-Hadji Diouf and Milan Baros comfortably got in behind the home defence but failed to finish, Sturrock must have been relieved to see Saints finally start to impose themselves.

It took another near miss, the all-action Steven Gerrard curling a shot just too high and wide from a superb Kewell pass on 23 minutes, to spark them into action, though.

A free-kick 25 yards out from which Graeme Le Saux - who later limped off injured - picked out the unmarked Claus Lundekvam at the far post, but the big Norwegian who has not scored in seven years could not direct his header towards goal.

And, within three minutes, on the half-hour mark, Le Saux measured a long ball through the centre which brought Jerzy Dudek dashing bravely from his line to foil the galloping Phillips.

Phillips was soon in pursuit of another long ball - this time along the right - to provide a fine cross towards Beattie and Stephane Henchoz had to show courage under fire as he ducked in to head away.

There were jeers from the Liverpool fans behind their goal for Beattie after Jerzy Dudek - in for broken wrist victim Chris Kirkland - went down heavily from the striker's challenge for another deep ball by Le Saux in the 37th minute.

The Polish keeper recovered after treatment but Liverpool appeared to have lost the plot and Owen was getting precious little service.

And, when a pass did finally find him, he was hacked down by Neil McCann who collected the first yellow card of the game.

Gerrard's free-kick found the head of Henchoz in the area but a tame effort barely tested Niemi.

However, that was nothing compared to the groans from the travelling fans when, in first-half stoppage time, Owen was sent through the middle on to Kewell's clever pass only to be denied by Niemi's quick advance.

It got worse - much worse.

When Gerrard, taking Kewell's pass and manoeuvring the space for a low shot which Niemi could only palm out, Owen stabbed the rebound against the foot of an upright when it looked much easier to score.

And his penalty miss put the tin lid on it after Beattie, swapping passes with Phillips in a lightning break from half-way in the 52nd minute, took full advantage of Biscan's miskick to stride through and force his shot beyond Dudek.

There might have been a question of offside about it but Liverpool had ample opportunity to retrieve the situation - especially when Jason Dodd clipped Kewell from behind in the 72nd minute and referee Dermot Gallacher pointed to the spot.

Owen's effort was a poor one, totally lacking belief, though. And Niemi denied him twice more before the finish.

Just to crown it all, a deflected Phillips shot looped over Dudek from 20 yards five minutes from the end to leave Liverpool's travelling fans forgetting all their celebrations over Manchester United's dismal demise at neighbours City and fourth-place rivals Newcastle's slip at Spurs.

Press Association

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Southampton Niemi, Dodd, Lundekvam, Michael Svensson, Le Saux (Higginbotham 44), Telfer, Prutton, Delap, McCann (Anders Svensson 67), Beattie, Phillips (Tessem 90).

Subs Not Used: Smith, Pahars.

Booked: McCann, Telfer, Lundekvam.

Liverpool Dudek, Biscan, Henchoz (Riise 75), Hyypia, Carragher, Kewell, Gerrard, Hamann, Diouf (Heskey 60), Baros, Owen.

Subs Not Used: Luzi Bernardi, Traore, Murphy.

Booked: Hamann.

Ref: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

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Match Report filed: 14th March 2004