Even the Kop's 'God'
couldn't influence the linesman
By Tony Barrett - Liverpool Echo
The Kop paid homage to Robbie Fowler as he made his
emotional return to Anfield.
was given a hero's welcome when he stepped on to the pitch
for a warm-up, 35 minutes before kick-off yesterday.
In a flashback to the days of the great Billy Liddell, the
Kop bellowed Fowler's name more times than that of their own
team, such was their joy at the return of the man they call
Pitchside announcer Phil Easton knew what he was up to when
he read out the teams and left the man of the moment's name
Kick-off came and went and most fans were keeping at least
one eye on the Liverpool dug-out where Fowler was sat.
With a little less than half an hour on the clock Rafa
Benitez ordered his substitutes to warm up.
That was the cue for Fowler to run along the touchline
towards his beloved Kop, bringing the fans to their feet in
As ever, the banners told their own story with "God has
returned to the promised land" and "God back in heaven"
being the particular stand-outs.
At 9.20pm Fowler was ordered to get changed by Benitez. The
While he was busy taking off his track-suit Steven Gerrard
scored but, for once, he had to settle for being upstaged as
it was Fowler's name that echoed around the stadium.
The roar when he sprinted on to the pitch - a little bit
more rotund than we remember him and wearing the unfamiliar
number eleven on his back - was as loud as anything heard at
Anfield in recent times. Even some of the travelling
Birmingham fans joined in with the applause.
The script was written. All Fowler had to do was score the
goal which would bring a fitting conclusion to a modern day
footballing fairy tale. Unfortunately, even "god" can't
overrule a linesman's flag.
But even without a goal to his name at the final whistle,
Fowler still left the pitch to another standing ovation.
ready to rotate Reds
Rafael Benitez will have to be a juggler and a gambler to
keep Liverpool's exhausting season on course for success.
The home draw with 10-man Birmingham was Liverpool's 40th
game of a season which started on July 13, and the Anfield
boss admits he will need to take advantage of his large
squad as 10 games in 36 days have to be negotiated.
Benitez is facing crunch time as the demands of the toughest
season facing any of Europe's top sides looks to be starting
to take its toll.
The Reds manager saw Xabi Alonso's embarrassing late own
goal give Birmingham a priceless point, but he refuses to
accept his squad are suffering from mental tiredness.
But, with a hectic schedule ahead, Benitez admits he must
rotate his squad and gamble on the games he can rest players
He made six changes from the side which won in the FA Cup at
Portsmouth, leaving Jamie Carragher on the bench while
resting Mohamed Sissoko and Djibril Cisse from the squad
The big guns will be back for Chelsea on Sunday, but Benitez
is fully aware it can even be dangerous to protect key
players against the likes of relegation-threatened
"I do not think we are looking particularly tired, although
I am trying to rest and change players," said Benitez.
"What was missing was a second goal from all the chances we
had, everything else really is just excuses.
"We are not tired but we do need to play with more intensity
and a higher tempo to establish a style for the game.
"The idea was to rest players, Sissoko and Carragher,
because we were playing at home and I have a lot of
confidence in the players that came into the side.
"I tried to give Carragher a rest. I used Alonso from the
bench, but everybody will be used in the next few weeks. We
have three away games now in a week and for sure Carragher
and Alonso will be key players for us then.
"We have 10 games now in just over a month, that is the
reason I decided to use other players against Birmingham.
"We will see now if we can rest more in the coming games,
but we must be careful how we do it because all the games
Benitez gave new defender Daniel Agger his debut, and the
youngster struggled occasionally against the aerial threat
of Emile Heskey and Chris Sutton.
"Agger was nervous at the start, but he improved and used
the ball well," said Benitez.
"But he needs time to get used to English football, playing
against Heskey was difficult for him."
Even Robbie Fowler could not produce the miracle, despite a
stunning overhead kick which flew past Maik Taylor late in
It found the net but Fowler was correctly ruled offside just
as the Kop were acclaiming their hero's return.
Benitez, though, was happy with the 30-year-old.
"When he is fit, really fit, he can give us so much extra
around the danger areas," he said.
"We know he needs to improve his physical conditions, but
the movement was good and we just needed to get into the
gaps that appeared.
"He needs to be quicker, but he gives us a lot of things
close to the box. But if he creates a gap, we must be aware
and use that space."
Benitez left frustrated by draw
By Steve Hunter - LFC Official Website
Rafael Benitez admitted to being a frustrated manager
after seeing his side drop two points in the 1-1 draw with
Birmingham City at Anfield, and felt the failure to get a
second goal cost the Reds dear.
Liverpool manager is a firm believer in finishing a game off
and scoring more goals and believes his team need to improve
in that area.
"I am very disappointed because when you score one goal you
need to score the second to finish the game, especially
against 10 men, and we didn't do that," retorted Benitez.
"We had a lot of chances but the Birmingham goalkeeper was
fantastic. If Luis Garcia had scored from his good chance
then we win the game and it is a totally different
"Birmingham were good in the air and we knew that with 10
men they would be looking to get corners and free-kicks
which is where they got the equaliser from."
Benitez praised Robbie Fowler for his performance when he
came on in the second half and believes his team need to
give the Reds goal machine better service.
"We know Robbie needs to improve his physical condition but
his movement was really good," enthused Benitez. "What we
need to do better is give him better service. Robbie makes
good runs and we need to give him the ball in the right
ruin Fowler's return
By Rob Lancaster - Sky Sports
A late own goal from Xabi Alonso denied Robbie Fowler
victory on his Liverpool return as they were held to a 1-1
draw against 10-man Birmingham.
Steven Gerrard's deflected second-half strike appeared set
to give Rafa Benitez victory in his 100th match in charge
after the visitors had seen Damien Johnson sent off for
serious foul play after 28 minutes.
But the European champions' march towards a ninth straight
home win was halted in the closing minutes when substitute
Alonso chested the ball into his own goal under little
It appeared Fowler had volleyed home a winner in stoppage
time, but a linesman's flag spoilt the script on a
frustrating night for the home side.
The forward had to wait for his first action since returning
to Merseyside as he was named on a strong bench by Benitez
that also included Jamie Carragher.
The defender's absence from the starting XI was a big
surprise as his run of 76 consecutive league appearances was
ended so recent signing Daniel Agger could make his debut.
The Dane had little to do at the back, although he was
involved in the biggest talking point of the match when he
was on the end of a hefty tackle from Johnson.
Referee Rennie had little hesitation in showing the
midfielder a straight red for the lunge on the defender and,
as if the controversial dismissal wasn't bad enough for
Bruce and his troops, they lost David Dunn soon after with a
While Liverpool understandably enjoyed the lion's share of
possession, even when the game was 11 aside, they were
unable to turn their domination into clear-cut chances.
Skipper Gerrard had their best effort of a quiet first half
when his well-struck free-kick whistled just over the top of
Maik Taylor's goal.
Indeed, it was Birmingham who had the clearest sight of goal
in the opening 45 minutes when a poor clearance by Agger
went unpunished by Chris Sutton as he shot straight at Jose
That proved to be the former Celtic man's last contribution
up front as he moved back into midfield after half-time to
try and help the visitors repel a Liverpool onslaught.
Fortune certainly seemed to be favouring their cause when
Mario Melchiot's inadvertent header towards his own goal hit
a post and stayed out.
However, the Blues' resistance was finally broken 17 minutes
into the second half when Gerrard's deflected effort from
Fernando Morientes's cut back found the corner of the net.
Fowler's arrival on to the field before play started again
was greeted by even bigger cheers than the goal as he was
welcomed back by the Kop, but he was unable to help his new
team-mates find the second goal they needed to kill the game
Luis Garcia wasted the best chance when he prodded wide from
six yards out and the Spaniard's miss was to cost Liverpool
dear as they surrendered their lead late on.
Alonso gifted Birmingham an equaliser when he turned
Sutton's header past Reina after the custodian had only just
denied former Red Emile Heskey with an excellent save low to
Alonso went close to atoning for his error with a free-kick
that forced a stunning finger-tip save from Taylor, although
the keeper was thankful to the woodwork from the resulting
corner as Dietmar Hamann's shot was kept out by the bar.
Then, with time almost up, Fowler looked to have grabbed a
winning goal to draw him level with Kenny Dalglish on the
club's all-time scorers list with an acrobatic finish from
Yet the fairy tale finish was not to be as the referee's
assistant correctly flagged for offside as Birmingham picked
up an unlikely point in their battle to avoid the drop.