Liverpool 2 West Ham 1

Glenn Roeder's brave troops can consider themselves unlucky to have come away from Anfield empty-handed after a battling display in their Premiership opener against Liverpool.

A double strike from deadly Michael Owen was the only real difference between the two sides as Gerard Houllier's men stumbled to a 2-1 victory against an under-strength Hammers team, whose determined performance was arguably deserving of a point.

Against a side who have serious Champions' League hopes this season, the visitors almost upset the odds and must be commended for recovering so well from the early set-back that suggested a rout might be on the cards.

On a damp and dismal day in Merseyside, the mood of the travelling supporters was darkened after just 17 minutes when Owen gained possession inside the penalty area, sidestepped the challenge of his former club-mate Rigobert Song, and fired low past stand-in goalkeeper Shaka Hislop. L'poolW'HamShots on target53Shots off target40Blocked Shots60Corners53Fouls conceded1318Offsides06

The Reds had enjoyed the vast majority of possession early on and, with Gary McAllister, Dietmar Hamann and Jari Litmanen pulling the strings behind the lightening quick Owen, the omens didn't look good.

However, Hammers' response to conceding their first goal of the campaign was both quick and effective.

With 26 minutes on the clock, Trevor Sinclair's attempted pass to Paolo Di Canio was blocked by a defender, only for Jamie Carragher to slice his clearance across the face of the goal.

Bulgarian striker Svetoslav Todorov, a late replacement for the injured Paul Kitson, pounced on the loose ball six yards out, only to be tripped by Stephane Henchoz.

Referee Winter had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Di Canio converted an audacious chip from 12 yards out to silence the Kop and send his adoring followers wild. The Italian also made a point of including new boss Roeder in his celebrations as the Hammers suddenly realised that a home win was by no means a forgone conclusion.

And it was Roeder's men who finished the first half the stronger team, attacking the hosts on the break at regular stages. Todorov had the Hammers' clearest chance on 34 minutes, when Di Canio lofted a ball over the defence for his strike partner to run on to, but the end result was a weak left foot shot that failed to trouble Arphexad in the Liverpool goal.

Things carried on where they had left off after the interval, as the Hammers enjoyed a fair amount of possession and passed the ball confidently, while the home supporters began to voice their frustrations at Liverpool's failure to kill off their opponents.

Speculative long range efforts from Hamann and Riise were all the Reds had to offer and with time running out, it appeared that the Hammers were heading for a well-fought point.

That was until the 77th minute, though, when Owen, who had been kept relatively quiet by Rigobert Song and Christian Dailly for the rest of the afternoon, received a pass on the edge of the area, superbly turned his markers and fired in a fierce right-foot shot that gave Hislop no chance and flew in off the post.

Despite the introduction of prolific young striker Jermain Defoe, there was no coming back from such a hammer blow late on, and Di Canio almost let his frustrations spill over in the closing stages when he reacted angrily to a decision from whistle-happy Winter. The Italian was booked for kicking the ball away and was lucky to escape further punishment as he vented his fury on the burly official.

The final whistle only confirmed the disappointment but the applause offered by the Hammers fans signalled their appreciation for a gallant effort from their team - with many plus points to be taken from the afternoon.

The performances of youngsters Michael Carrick and Joe Cole - still not fully recovered from the foot injury that plagued him throughout the pre-season build-up - were particularly satisfying and the link-up play between Sinclair and Di Canio that was so sorely missed last season appears to be back in full flow.

Roeder was rightly proud of his players' efforts and insisted afterwards that he had expected nothing less.

"No one could have argued if we'd got a point today," he said. "It was a battling performance and one that we can build upon with confidence.

"Many people may have expected us to lose easily but we certainly didn't feel that way. The vibes I got from the players in the build-up to the game suggested that they were confident about coming here and getting a result, and we almost achieved that.

"We were dying a bit towards the end because we didn't play the amount and quality of pre-season games that I would have liked. But I looked at the size of my squad and knew we couldn't risk any more injuries - we've got the smallest squad in the Premiership."

Roeder conceded that the finishing of Owen had been the deciding factor in Liverpool's victory and admitted that there is little any defender can do when the England striker is in such menacing form. 

Said Roeder: "The first time I saw Michael Owen was at Bisham Abbey when Glenn Hoddle asked me to do some work for England. He did to Gareth Southgate then what he did to us today.

"He's a bit special and you just hope you can restrict him to as few chances as possible. Today he had two and scored two, which we could really do nothing about."

Glenn will now be looking to pick up the first points of the season in next week's clash against Leeds United at Upton Park - and also revealed that, while it is unlikely Fredi Kanoute will make his return from injury, there may be one or two new faces in his starting line-up for the visit of David O'Leary's men.

"Fredi Kanoute is touch and go and if he isn't fully ready then it wouldn't be worth risking him with a two week break straight after. But hopefully I might be able to bring in one or two players in the week that would immediately improve the team.

"It may be that we can't get the players we want in time for next Saturday but this performance today has proved to me that it wouldn't be a disaster if that was the case.

"If I can the players in that I want, though, we will be a lot stronger and I am confident that will happen soon." Man of the match: Michael Carrick
Showed outstanding maturity in the middle of the park against McAllister and Hamann, hardly giving the ball away and keeping possession when it mattered most.

by Danny Francis