An opening 45 minutes of little significant action and no clear-cut chances was followed by a resolute and spirited second-half performance from a Liverpool FC side who deservedly clinched a UEFA Cup fourth round first-leg win through captain Sami Hyypiä.
Inability to score
The AJ Auxerre coach Guy Roux, though, will be bemoaning his side's inability to transform large periods of dominant play into a chance worthy of the name until the final quarter of the match. After Hyypiä had put the English visitors ahead in the 73rd minute, Teemu Tainio and Lionel Mathis both wasted excellent opportunities to restore parity.
It was indicative of the defensive nature of much of the game that the first save of note by either goalkeeper did not come until the 59th minute, Jerzy Dudek diving low to foil Auxerre captain Yann Lachuer. A minute earlier Emile Heskey had missed the first decent chance of the evening when his first touch deserted him in front of goalkeeper Fabien Cool from 12 metres.
Khalilou Fadiga proved a thorn in the Liverpool defence with his trickery and ball skills down the flanks, but the final ball was too often astray despite his obvious endeavour and energy. Liverpool, in contrast, were content to sit back for long periods and simply wait, doing little to warm the lively but increasingly frustrated crowd on a bitterly cold night in Burgundy.
Lachuer did his best to illuminate the game, bossing the midfield for much of the game. However, the captain could do little to prevent Liverpool wresting the initiative in this tie. After twice being denied by Cool, Danny Murphy dropped out of the box to collect a neat El Hadji Diouf pass before slipping a fine ball through to Hyypiä. Displaying a skill not in evidence from his forwards, the Finn glided past the home defenders to slot the ball past Cool.
Save of the night
Dudek proved his worth with the save of the night from Benjamin Mwaruwari two minutes later, stopping the Zimbabwean's powerful strike from eight metres, before Michael Owen was presented with a chance to seal a win with 13 minutes remaining. The England striker's finish was one of a player lacking in confidence after fashioning space for himself.
Despite Owen's profligacy, his manager, Gérard Houllier was content with a 1-0 away triumph. "
Winning here represented a great performance," said the Frenchman. "We were very strong, very solid. Our defensive game was good and we scored with the best move of the match and could have scored more." Hyypiä added: "We still have a lot to do. We are in a good position but it is not over yet."