Keep Owen at bay

Wednesday 12 December 2001

Fulham captain Andy Melville is determined to keep Michael Owen stranded on 99 Liverpool goals at Anfield tonight.

The prolific striker nudged his tally to within one of the century with a stunning 20-yard drive in Saturday's 2-0 Premiership victory over Middlesbrough.

Owen has his 22nd birthday on Friday, and Wales centre-back Melville would love to make the England international wait until after the celebrations to chalk up his 100th strike.

Jean Tigana's side have won four and drawn three of their last seven Premiership outings - and go into the clash with the League leaders, knowing they shut out the Reds for 90 minutes in the fifth round of last season's Worthington Cup at Anfield a year ago almost to the day.

In that match, First Division Fulham eventually collapsed in extra-time, losing 3-0 - but the big-spending club have made huge strides since and now occupy the eighth position in the table.

"We played them in the cup last year," said Melville. "It was 0-0 after 90 minutes. But we got a bit tired in extra-time and Owen came on and scored.

"He's on fire at the moment. He's on 99 goals, but we're out to try and spoil his night.

"Liverpool have got quality right through their team and also on the bench - with Emile Heskey as substitute on Saturday. They've got so many people to call on.

"They're flying, 11 games unbeaten and three points ahead at the top - but we're unbeaten in seven and are going there with confidence.

"If you go on a run you've got to keep it going as long as possible. The lads are looking forward to the match and we hope to go there and pass the ball around like we do."

Southampton, West Ham, Newcastle and Everton have all been defeated in recent weeks as Tigana's men have bounced back well from a goal-shy beginning to life in the top flight.

While Melville is satisfied his team-mates have finally made their mark at that level, the 33-year-old captain will be urging them to show restraint in the event of any controversy tonight.

Saturday's 2-0 victory against Everton at Craven Cottage was marred by a 22-man brawl which resulted in red cards for Luis Boa Morte and the visitors' captain David Weir.

"The ref said to David Weir that it was his retaliation that got him sent off - and he told Luis that he bit the defender," said Melville.

"But the club will have a look at the video and there's every chance we'll take it further.

"There were scuffles all over the place and it looks bad on camera - although it wasn't that bad really."

Fulham's £11.5 million record signing Steve Marlet is recovering from the compressed fracture of his knee but is still not expected to return to action until the new year.