Michael Owen inspired Liverpool to straightforward win over Fulham at Anfield this afternoon that kept their Champions’ League hopes alive.

The England striker secured the points in the second half after his international colleague Emile Heskey had given Gerard Houllier’s men the lead with a shot on the turn after Fulham had failed to deal with a free-kick. An attack-minded Liverpool side created a surfeit of chances and should have recorded a much more comfortable victory.

Fulham never looked like repeating their win over the Reds at Loftus Road earlier in the season, with outgoing manager Jean Tigana cutting a frustrated figure on the touchline. After an emotional period of silence to remember the loss of 96 supporters at Hillsborough in 1989, Liverpool set about the Premiership strugglers with real relish. Owen had an early goal ruled out for offside and Maik Taylor had turn aside a scuffed shot from Milan Baros on 20 minutes.

Taylor did brilliant brilliantly to prevent the irrepressible Owen from opening the scoring after the lively forward had dribbled past five white shirts. Fulham did flicker fitfully as an attacking force with Sean Davis, who delivered a man-of-the-match display against Liverpool in the autumn, testing Jerzy Dudek from distance but the hosts were soon penning Tigana’s men back again. Owen tested Taylor’s reflexes from thirty yards but it was becoming a question of how long the Londoners would prove able to hold out.

Their resistance crumbled before the break as Sami Hyypia helped on a John Arne Riise free-kick and Heskey swivelled to hit his ninth goal of the season past an unsighted Taylor. There was a scare for Liverpool on the stroke of half time when Dudek had to tip over a strike from Sylvain Legwinski who found space on the edge of the box, but that only served to sharpen the Reds’ resolve in the second half.

Liverpool were far from their fluent past but still had too much for a Fulham side that look bereft of confidence. Steven Gerrard lashed a drive over the bar from 25 yards but, just before the hour mark, Owen made sure the three points would stay on Merseyside. Taylor had denied him again moments earlier, but the deadly striker made no mistake, placing a shot into the corner after being played in by Vladimir Smicer.

Fulham kept going to the end but were denied even a consolation when Louis Saha’s smartly-taken shot came back off the frame of the goal with ten minutes remaining.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Dudek; Carragher, Traore, Hyypia, Riise; Smicer (Cheyrou 90), Gerrard, Hamann, Heskey; Baros, Owen. Subs (not used): Arphexad, Diao, Biscan, Mellor.

BOOKED: Heskey.

GOALS: Heskey (36), Owen (59).

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Wome (Ouaddoh 57), Djetou, Melville; Davis, Legwinski, Malbranque, Boa Morte (Hammond 58); Saha, Marlet (Sava 78). Subs (not used): Herrera, Clark.

BOOKED: Wome, Boa Morte.

REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).