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Football: Gerrard, don't lecture us long-suffering fans.

Byline: carson WISHART

SUCH was the predictability of Wednesday night's 202nd Merseyside derby, it rested with events at Anfield and Villa Park 48 hours earlier to really stir red and blue blood.

While Everton and Liverpool went through the motions at Goodison, a friend pricked my ears with the immortal question: "Who does Steven Gerrard think he is?"

Surely not a derogatory comment about the finest Premiership player currently gracing the grounds of England and Europe?

Surely not the same player with whom much of England's hopes of World Cup glory in Germany next summer will rest?

Maybe the man himself, an admirer of his talents though I am, is starting to believe his own 'legend' when he dares tells Liverpool fans how to behave.

"No footballer should say that to supporters," says my friend, albeit a die-hard native of the Blue half of the city.

He is, of course, referring to Gerrard's churlish comments about the manner in which Anfield 'welcomed back' Michael Owen on Boxing Day.

Donned in the black and white of Newcastle, the Reds fans dared chant: "Where were you in Istanbul?" and "You should have signed for a big club".

But how it ruffled the feathers of the London-based football writers who are as far removed from your fee-paying fan as Vanessa Feltz is from Weight Watchers.

Eager to sycophantically ride on the backs of superstar footballers like Gerrard, they declared: How dare those (and I quote) "witless Scousers" deride little Michael after all he's done for Liverpool.

How dare they goad a player whose 158 goals in 297 appearances helped bring three domestic cups, the Uefa Cup, five top-four finishes and two Champions League campaigns... blah, blah, blah.

The unequivocal factor in all this is that the supporters pay their money and can say whatever they like about a player - even if it is Owen the 'legend', as Gerrard describes him.

"He's got a bit of a mixed reception here and that's very disappointing," was the Reds skipper's barbed message to the fans after his side's 2-0 victory over Newcastle. "He is a legend and good luck to him."

And off he drove in his luxury supercar to an ivory tower while the rest of us caught the bus home worrying if forking out for these four festive games in eight days would mean having to again hold off for the dreaded red gas bill to land on the doormat.

The irony has not been lost on Welsh football fans that Owen built his reputation with England, following that wonder goal against Argentina in France '98, when he could have qualified for the Dragons having been brought up in North Wales and is still keeping a home here.

And Reds fans too have not lost sight that Owen - who to them is more Posh Scouse than Toxteth terrier - was seen to be stalling over a new contract in the final months of Gerard Houlli-er's reign.

Maybe worse still, those contract talks were still unresolved and no doubt had an unsettling affect when new boss Rafael Benitez took Liverpool to Grazer AK for the start of last season's Champions League odyssey.

But perhaps the biggest mistake of all was for Owen to suggest that he would punch the air with delight if he scored on his return to Anfield with another club - all ammunition for the fans to fire back at him.

Talking of big mistakes, Mike Riley wins the dubious gong of worst refereeing mistake in Premiership history.

In an incident that made Diego Maradona's infamous 'Hand of God' look touch and go, Milan Baros', blatant handball s Aston Villa on their way to a 4-0 rout over Everton.

It astounded me t Riley, who clearly isn't sponsored by Specsavers, didn't blow up and book Baros.

It was a goal that changed the complexion of the game and even 1 more amazingly, Villa manager David O'Leary and Baros admitted it afterwards.

"We deserve a break this season - and if we got it, I'm delighted," said wannabe Arsenal boss O'Leary, while Liverpool reject Baros chipped in with "Yes, I think it was handball, but it was a very important goal for us." Incredulous.

For me the blame still lies squarely with Riley who should be struck off the Premiership referee's list because that decision would have been a travesty in a Sunday League match, never mind a crucial topflight encounter.

carsonwishart@dailypost.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

Michael Owen (centre) on the ball for Newcastle against Liverpool as former colleague Steven Gerrard (right) looks on' Steven Gerrard
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 31, 2005
Words:761
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