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FOOTBALL: HUNTED DOWN; BOLTON...........2 LIVERPOOL......2 Hyypia 51, Gerrard 69 Hunt 11, Djorkaeff 58 Gerrard the Reds' saviour, but Owen is out-finished by a Bolton defender.

Byline: SIMON MULLOCK

STEVEN GERRARD was the inspiration behind this vital point - but Gerrard Houllier must be wondering when his other England star is going to start making a contribution.

While Gerrard continues to show the form that will make him a cert for Sven Goran Eriksson's starting line-up in Portugal, Michael Owen is enduring the kind of goalless run that gives strikers nightmares.

Both players have been plagued by fitness problems this season, but their fortunes at the moment could not be more contrasting.

Gerrard has returned to prove himself a true Liverpool captain, but Owen is missing chances he would usually gobble up with his eyes closed.

Gerrard, full of power and purpose, made the Reds' first equaliser for Sami Hyypia and scored the second himself after strikes from Nicky Hunt and Youri Djorkaeff had threatened to send Sam Allardyce's men above the Merseysiders in the Premiership table.

Yet Owen looks bereft of his usual movement and menace, missing golden chances at the start and at the end of the game that could have won it for the visitors.

The third-minute header he put straight into the hands of Jussi Jaaskelainen from inside the six-yard box was profligate enough, but to toe-poke an even better chance across the face of the goal with nine minutes to go was agony.

It is now more than three months since Owen last raised his arms in celebration, and he has failed to score in six games since his return from injury.

Of course, form is temporary while class is permanent - and Owen answered his critics with a hat-trick after going through a worse drought last season.

He will be back - but if the Red are to qualify for the Champions League, it must be sooner rather than later.

It was Bolton who drew first blood after 11 minutes when Owen was given a lesson in the art of finishing by a 20-year-old defender who had never previously hit the back of the net in senior football - Nicky Hunt.

Liverpool failed to deal with Bruno N'Gotty's routine free kick, and when Steve Finnan's headed clearance fell to Hunt 18 yards out, the right-back drilled an unerring shot with his left foot past Jerzy Dudek.

Within moments Hunt was performing more heroics at the other end, throwing himself in the way of Harry Kewell's shot when he looked sure to score.

Bolton lost their way when Per Frandsen limped off with a groin strain 25 minutes in, to be replaced by Ibrahim Ba.

With Gerrard assuming the ascendancy in the midfield, the Merseysiders finally began to show some of their quality.

They had to wait until the 51st minute to draw level, when Gerrard's free kick was met by Hyypia with a fine header.

Yet within seven minutes Bolton were in front again when Djorkaeff scooped home from close range.

Houllier sent on Florent Sinama-Pongolle to join Anthony Le Tallec and Owen in attack - and it paid off.

Sinama-Pongolle capitalised on N'Gotty's slip to feed Le Tallec down the left, and his delicate chip was dispatched by Gerrard on the half-volley.

matchVERDICTS

MAN OF THE MATCH

stevenGERRARD

The England midfielder looks to be a natural successor to former greats like Graeme Souness, Tommy Smith and Phil Thompson as Anfield skipper. Set up the first goal, grabbed the second himself.

RATINGS

BOLTON

Jaaskelainen 7, Hunt 8, Thome 7, N'Gotty 7, Barness 6, Djorkaeff 7, Frandsen 6 (Ba 6, Charlton 5), Campo 7, Nolan 7, Davies 7, Pedersen 6.

LIVERPOOL

Dudek 6, Finnan 6, Hyypia 6, Henchoz 6, Carragher 6, GERRARD 9, Hamann 6, Cheyrou 5 (Sinama-Pongolle 6), Kewell 5, Owen 5, Le Tallec 5 (Murphy 5).

MANAGERS: Allardyce 8; Houllier 6.

REFEREE: A Wiley 4.

ATTENDANCE: 27,552

CAPTION(S):

RISING TO THE OCCASION: Emerson Thome is helpless as Steven Gerrard has a blast to salvage a point for the Merseysiders in an entertaining contest at the Reebok
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:The PREM
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 8, 2004
Words:654
Previous Article:Football: Dichio signs off in style; MILLWALL 1 Dichio 23 STOKE 1 Clarke 4.
Next Article:FOOTBALL: Butler haunts Royals; ROTHERHAM........5 Proctor 24 (pen), 79, Monkhouse 36, Butler 47, Barker 90 READING..............1 Goater 20 (pen).


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