London: Liverpool stormed seven points clear of champions Arsenal in the Premier League title race on Saturday when Michael Owen struck twice to give them a 2-0 win over West Ham United at Anfield.
It was Liverpool’s seventh successive league victory, maintaining their unbeaten league record and moving them on to 30 points from 12 matches — seven clear of Arsenal who play at Fulham on Sunday.
Liverpool were looking for a morale-boosting victory after losing 1-0 to Valencia in the Champions League on Wednesday and Owen produced two superb goals to the delight of French manager Gerard Houllier.
“I thought they responded from the Valencia game extremely well,” Houllier said.
Manchester United, who needed a late goal from substitute Diego Forlan to beat Southampton 2-1 at Old Trafford, moved up to third place on 22 points, three ahead of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, who are both on 19 points and who meet at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
In the other two matches on Saturday, Manchester City beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 at The Hawthorns to climb from 16th to 14th, and Birmingham City defeated Bolton Wanderers 3-1 at St Andrews. Birmingham rose to 12th, while Bolton stayed nailed to the bottom of the table without a win for seven matches.
Bolton’s miserable day was completed with the 67th-minute dismissal of striker Riccardo Gardner for his second yellow card.
Although he made a slow start to the season, Owen has now scored 11 goals in his last 10 matches for Liverpool and England, striking his first against West Ham after 28 minutes.
He eluded tackles from Ian Pearce and Thomas Repka, got a slight deflection off Christian Dailly and then lifted the ball over former Liverpool teammate David James to score.
His second could hardly have been more different, sliding home from the edge of the penalty area after beating James to the ball some 20 metres out.
Collecting a long pass from Vladimir Smicer, Owen failed to connect properly and the ball seemed to take an age on the wet surface to cross the line, with Dailly sliding after it and into the net.
“At the start of the season I was missing 99 per cent of what I hit but at the moment I’m scoring 99 per cent,” Owen said.
While Liverpool were cruising to victory at Anfield, Manchester United were made to work extremely hard for their 2-1 win over Southampton.
Phil Neville broke from his defensive midfield position to give United the lead after 15 minutes with a rare goal — only his sixth in 279 appearances for the club — but Fabrice Fernandes put the Saints level with a left-foot curler three minutes later.
With the game heading for a draw, United manager Alex Ferguson threw on Forlan, who scored his first Premier League goal in last week’s 1-1 home draw with Aston Villa.
The Uruguayan striker, who failed to score in his first 26 appearances for United before a penalty in the Champions League against Maccabi Haifa in September, struck the winner with a 20-metre screamer that flew into the roof of Antti Niemi’s net.
He then took his shirt off in celebration — and because of his wet body, the damp material and the double-lining in United’s shirts, he needed help to put it back on again after two minutes of trying himself.
Manchester City made it a rare weekend victory double for the city with a 2-1 win at West Bromwich who lost for the fifth time in six matches, have now taken only one point from a possible 18 and stayed in the relegation zone.
Unselfish work from Eyal Berkovic set up striker Nicolas Anelka for City’s first after 51 minutes and while Neil Clement equalised for the home side following a free kick nine minutes later, Shaun Goater wrapped up the points with his first goal of the season 19 minutes from time.
Birmingham kept Bolton at the bottom of the table with a 3-1 win at St Andrews where the visitors were reduced to 10 men.