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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Smith warns of Owen threat
Michael Owen is back after injury
Everton v Liverpool (2000 GMT)

Everton boss Walter Smith believes a rejuvenated Michael Owen could be the key to Friday's Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.

Owen, who is at last fit after months of hamstring injury worries, is sure to start the game.

Liverpool have got more than a few danger men, but for me young Owen, after coming back from injury, has been excellent.

Everton boss Walter Smith
And Smith has admitted the England striker poses the biggest threat yet to Everton's hopes of qualifying for the Intertoto Cup.

"Owen is England's number one striker and the way he has come back from injury in such good form has been impressive," he said.

"Liverpool have got more than a few danger men, but for me young Owen, after coming back from injury, has been excellent.

"For me he is England's best striker and we will have to watch him. Particularly now with Heskey fitting in alongside him, who is a really strong player.

Joe-max moore
Joe-Max Moore is struggling with injury
"But it's not about one or two players. To be successful it has to be a collective thing, and that's what Liverpool have had this season."

Smith has defender Richard Gough and striker Joe-Max Moore struggling with injuries, but Dave Unsworth and Abel Xavier have shaken off minor knocks, while Francis Jeffers has come through his second reserve outing in a week, and will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up.

Everton have lost just one home league game this term and if they can overcome their closest rivals it will set them up for a possible place in the Intertoto Cup.

"We have three games now on the trot against sides chasing Champions League spots," Smith said.

"So it's important that we maintain our good form right to the end of the season. We have Arsenal and Leeds next, so it's going to be tough to improve on our league position, but we aim to try, starting against Liverpool."

Merseyside success

Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier announced he would like to see both Merseyside clubs back in Europe next season.

Houllier said Smith had done a "magnificent job" in dragging Everton from the pits of the Premiership, adding that his side have "learned their lesson" from the furious first match when three players - Sander Westerveld, Steven Gerrard and Francis Jeffers - were sent off at Anfield.

My players have done very well this season and we deserve our place as second in the table.

Gerard Houllier
Houllier said: "I have no worries about the passion of the game, we will manage to keep a cool head this time."

But as he wrestles with the selection problem thrown up by the return to fitness of Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler - both can expect to be on the bench at Goodison Park - Houllier spelt out what his side would need to achieve a win.

"We need steel and nerve," he said. "My players have done very well this season and we deserve our place as second in the table behind Manchester United. And we want to keep that.

"I do not have to remind my players what this game means to the fans and the city, but I believe we have learned to cope with occasions like this now."

With Titi Camara and Rigobert Song both away on World Cup duty, Houllier is unlikely to change the side that won at Selhurst Park, which means Robbie Fowler and Redknapp, plus Vladimir Smicer, will have to be content with places on the bench.

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