Still no news for Fowler on his future says Rafa

Liverpool’s 1-0 victory at home to Bolton yesterday means that the Reds need just one more victory from their remaining four games to virtually assure themselves of third place. That one win would leave Tottenham as the only club able to catch them, and only then if they won all of their games and eroded the superior goal-difference the Reds currently possess. Second place is still a possibility for the Reds, although Manchester United would need to slip up much more than they seem likely to given their current form. United would need to lose two and draw one of their last five games to let Liverpool get in with a chance – and again goal difference would be the decider in that case.

With Arsenal’s defeat to United yesterday Liverpool moved another step to being sure of a top-four finish. Two more points would mean Liverpool finishing at least fourth, and in turn qualifying for the Champions League qualifiers next season.

So unless some major slip-ups happen somewhere along the line Liverpool can start to think about the Champions League next season. This time round Liverpool would start in the third qualifying round rather than first, and so the players would at least get a little time off after the World Cup. One player not expecting to be involved in the World Cup but desperate to be involved in the Reds pre-season training is Robbie Fowler.

Fowler was signed in January on what amounted to a six-month trial, the intention being that he would prove his fitness and form were deserving of a new Anfield contract. Yesterday Fowler proved his form was good enough – he got his third goal since joining and his second in two games – but his fitness is something Rafael Benítez will continue to assess. It was Fowler’s 31st birthday yesterday and Benítez was pleased with the performance of the Kop hero, even if the Spaniard won’t be drawn on where Robbie’s future lies: “It’s his birthday and scoring goals is the best thing for a striker, but we are not talking about his new contract. I like to see him scoring goals and playing well, but the most important thing for us is to see him working hard until the end and playing well. To score a goal and the winner is the best thing for a striker and it was nice for Robbie on his birthday. I like to see Robbie scoring goals and it is good for me to see him working so hard and playing really well.”

Benítez said he expected a battle with Sam Allardyce’s side: “We knew
this game would be hard and a tough and physical one. In the first half
we couldn’t control the second balls but I think we worked hard and in
the second half we created more chances on the counter-attack and won
more second balls. We didn’t manage to find the final ball but we
created chances. Bolton only caused problems with throw-ins and
free-kicks and the long balls, but in the second half we did a lot
better in dealing with those things. I made a change at half-time by
bringing on Luis Garcia for Cisse as we needed to keep the ball more
and create more. I felt we did that better in the second half and I
told the players at half-time we needed to keep the ball and pass the
ball better.”

Although Rafa always claims he thinks only of the next game, perhaps
he’s thinking a little further ahead and towards next season: “We now
have 70 points and maybe one more win will give us third place for
sure. With 70 points you will normally finish in top four. We are
really close to the top three. We know we need to win one more game and
that will be enough.”

Benitez added: “It was difficult in the first half as they pressed with
three strikers. In the second half we wanted to keep the ball more and
start playing from the goal-keeper and centre-backs, and we kept ball
better and our passing was better. We couldn’t score the second goal
but we created more chances. It was difficult for all the players, but
particularly the midfielders. Bolton are strong in the middle and it
was important to work hard there. Xabi was a holding midfielder and did
Scorer and birthday boy Fowler was pleased with his goal and with the
win, perfect birthday presents he said: “I think it’s the first time
I’ve scored on my birthday so to score the only goal in a 1-0 win is
perfect. I’m very happy. There weren’t that many chances, it was an
instinctive shot and I was fortunate enough to see it go in.”

So does Fowler feel the age is catching up with him? Not yet he says:
“I think there are plenty of years still left in me. I think people
have been saying over the years that I’ve been past it. But in games I
have started with Liverpool I have a reasonably good record and I hope
that it can continue. I’ve got to keep plugging away and score as many
goals as I can before the end of the season. Everyone knows where I
want to be and until the manager says otherwise I’m happy to go along
with things.”

Fowler says the fact Rafa has made use of him in games means he’s
getting fitter as the season draws to its conclusion: “I’m getting
fitter but there are only four games left. I’ve not had many runs of
games all season, but since I’ve been here the manager has involved me
more and more and the more games you play the fitter you will feel. I
do feel better.”

And Fowler also had a word for the fans who gave him an ovation as he
left the pitch he loves so much: “Ever since I’ve been back here the
fans have been fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for anything more
from them. It was great to get an ovation like that when I came off, it
means an awful lot.”

Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce said Fowler’s goal was a mis-hit. Then again,
he never has been a good loser: “We paid the price again for creating
good opportunities and not converting them and then an even bigger
price for allowing a situation to develop that should have been snuffed
out. That’s what Robbie Fowler is all about. He mis-hit it, but even
when he does that he stills scores goals. If he keeps scoring goals for
Liverpool, they will be keeping him.”