SAINTS 2 - LIVERPOOL 0

Daily Echo: ADMIRING HIS HANDYWORK: James Beattie watches his goal go in. Echo picture by Stuart Martin ADMIRING HIS HANDYWORK: James Beattie watches his goal go in. Echo picture by Stuart Martin

IT'S OFTEN said that the best football managers are the lucky ones. After this game you have to think Paul Sturrock could do very well at Saints.

Even the most avid Saints fan would struggle to argue their team deserved to win this game.

On another day it might not only have been a defeat, but a hammering.

But the luck was with Saints - to be fair they deserved it after a season with very little.

Michael Owen missed some great chances, Liverpool hit the post, Antti Niemi was a God-like presence in the goal and even saved a penalty, and the first Saints goal was probably offside and the second was from a massive deflection.

Now that's luck.

Sturrock said he had serious words with his players at half-time - boy did they need it.

The midfield was ragged - just as it was in the first half against Everton.

Perhaps a few of the players were just trying a bit too hard to impress rather than doing what they do best.

The passing was slipshod and Liverpool were running the game through their midfield, which included the exceptional Steven Gerrard.

Whatever it was about Saints, it had to change.

And change it did - most notably when Anders Svensson replaced Neil McCann on 67 minutes. Maybe Sturrock earned a bit of luck with that change.

When the Swede entered the match Saints suddenly had somebody capable of putting his foot on the ball and dictating a pace and rhythm to the play - it wasn't all so cut and thrust.

But after the first 45 minutes the game could have been over.

The chief reason it wasn't was thanks to Niemi - what a keeper.

His first stop, and the one he rated as the most important, came after just ten minutes.

Milan Baros slipped the ball through to Harry Kewell whose first-time effort was tipped just wide of the post by Niemi.

Gerrard came close on 23 minutes when a cross found its way to him on the far side of the area. He had time to bring it under control and set himself to try and bend it across goal but he started it too wide and it never threatened.

Niemi had to be alert again four minutes before half-time when Igor Biscan got in a header from Gerrard's free kick, but he dealt with it comfortably.

The best chance in a first half, which Liverpool dominated, came in injury time.

Owen was played in on goal and chased through faced with just Niemi to beat.

He opted to hit low from the edge of the area and Niemi was able to slide and stop with his legs. A good save but probably more of a bad miss.

Saints' midfield of Paul Telfer, Rory Delap, David Prutton and Neil McCann had struggled to create anything going forward in the first 45 minutes.

Only Delap's through ball, which Kevin Phillips couldn't quite reach, bucked the trend.

The best quality deliveries were coming from Graeme Le Saux at left back. So things didn't look great when he limped off on 44 minutes.

Sturrock would have been mightily relived to get his players in at half-time with the score 0-0. A few harsh words were no doubt spoken by the new boss.

It certainly helped as first McCann crossed and Beattie almost got on target and then, on 52 minutes, Saints scored.

Biscan made a misjudgment and Beattie was able to spin on the halfway line and chase through on goal.

Sami Hyppia was closing in so he played in Phillips. He might well have been offside but took a heavy touch which laid it back into the path of Beattie. He might also have been offside.

Whatever those arguments, there was no quibble about the clinical finish, superbly lofted over Jerzy Dudek and into the far corner.

Liverpool didn't lie down and a Biscan header again forced Niemi into a good save.

Just before the hour mark came another great chance for the Merseysiders as Gerrard showed a great touch to control and line up a shot which Niemi palmed wide to Owen at the far post. It wasn't easy to reach but he just had to find the open goal. He hit the post.

Niemi was then twice out quickly to thwart attacks before saving low down to Emile Heskey. Seven minutes later he was stopping Kewell.

On 72 minutes the Australian cleverly tricked Jason Dodd and got a run in on goal. Dodd gave his shirt a slight tug and it was all the invitation Kewell needed to go down. There was minimal contact and possibly outside the area but a penalty was given.

Owen stepped up, never looked confident and put the ball at a lovely height for Niemi who duly stopped it.

You just knew then it was Sturrock's day.

After another Niemi save from Owen, Saints capped their afternoon with a second goal.

Again it was tinged with fortune as Phillips lined up a shot from distance. He let fly only for John Arne Riise to slide across him. The ball flicked off Riise and looped high and above Dudek.

Of course, there was time for one more great save from Niemi as he just managed to stop Kewell's shot crossing the line but Saints' luck was in and the victory was complete.

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