Michael Owen equalled Liverpool FC’s European scoring record as his second-half strike sparked a 2-0 defeat of AJ Auxerre at Anfield in their UEFA Cup fourth round second-leg game, setting up an enticing encounter between the hosts and Celtic FC in the quarter-finals.
Owen’s strike, on 67 minutes, took the English international to 22 goals in all European competition, equalling Ian Rush’s record. Danny Murphy struck a second five minutes later to see Liverpool comfortably through.
Liverpool struggled early on, but much of this was down to the disciplined way Guy Roux’s side closed down the hosts.Djimi Traore began the half poorly, receiving a booking for a rash challenge on Lionel Mathis. He was by no means the sole culprit, however, as only Danny Murphy showed any real promise - including a neat shot on the turn that went narrowly over.
Djibril Cissé went closest to breaking the deadlock just a minute before the break. Yann Lachuer nodded down a promising cross, but Cissé saw his shot saved by Jerzy Dudek. Gérard Houllier then replaced Traore at half-time, throwing on Czech winger Vladimír Šmicer. The change was to prove crucial. After a slow start, Šmicer jinked past his man on 65 minutes, only to blast his finish over.
Two minutes later, Owen struck. Substitute Didier Hamann fed Murphy, whose clever backheel sent Owen scampering through on goal. He dinked the ball over the advancing goalkeeper Fabien Cool.
Murphy scored the second on 73 minutes, as Cool fumbled his long-range shot into his own net. Owen could have made Rush's record his own with five minutes to go, but Šmicer’s cross was just too long for him.
Owen was ecstatic at the win and equalling the record, and was visibly excited at the prospect of playing Celtic in the quarter-finals. “It is great to score and equal the record. However, we didn’t play well in the first-half. The second half was a different story though and we won comfortably in the end.
“We hear that Celtic got through in their game. That will be another memorable game. I played there when I was just 17 and I have never played in an atmosphere like that since. It is a fantastic tie, they are a fantastic club and it will be great to pay them again.”
Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier paid tribute to his star striker after the game. "
Owen's goal freed the team," he said. "We've beaten a good team. While I expected their response in the first half, I did not expect us to be so nervous."
'We were gasping for breath'
Auxerre coach Roux felt his side had suffered from tiredness. "We matched them all the way, didn't convert our chances and towards the end we were gasping for breath," he said. "We have played ten games in Europe this year and that would normally be enough to see you through to the final. Mentally and physically my players were quite tired, but we put up a good show."