Liverpool's owners are weighing up appointing a temporary manager to see the club through to the end of the season, a move which appears to open the door to Kenny Dalglish fulfilling his desire to return to the helm of the club where he remains a legend.
The injury-time winner by Joe Cole – Roy Hodgson's late substitute – which sealed a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers yesterday is unlikely to convince Liverpool's main owner, John W Henry, that Hodgson should see the club through to May, and it is with a growing awareness that the right permanent manager cannot be found in mid-season that he and Fenway Sports Group appear ready to appoint on an interim basis.
Precisely who they might be considering remains unclear, though Dalglish would enable the club to reconnect with supporters whose disenchantment contributed to Liverpool's lowest League crowd since the visit of Portsmouth in 2004: just 35,400 turned up yesterday. The owners may also feel that Dalglish is the man to bring the full potential out of Fernando Torres who, despite a far better display yesterday, has not delivered consistently for Hodgson.
Hodgson mouthed the words "thank you" to fans in the main stand and Kop last night after the victory and, even after Kevin Davies's goal put Bolton ahead, there was no repeat of the negative sentiment sounded during Liverpool's home defeat to Wolves. There were also signs of the support the 63-year-old has among some of his players, whom he shook individually by the hand. Pepe Reina knocked Hodgson off his feet; Lucas Leiva stopped his run from the field to embrace him. But Henry's concerns about his relationship with the fans have contributed to the feeling that imminent change is due. There had been hopes of a permanent replacement in mid-season, though that reduces the possible candidates – the former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard is one of the few likely candidates not already contracted – which is why the idea of a stopgap has come into the equation.
Dalglish had felt the Americans did not have an appetite to hire him, though he believes he should have been appointed last summer, and his appeal for unity yesterday again included no support for Hodgson. "If everyone sticks together we'll have a better chance of getting three points. Then, if we want to have a discussion after that, we can," Dalglish said.
Hodgson said last night that Henry and Liverpool chairman Tom Werner had wished him "good luck" for yesterday and sympathised with "the frustration I must be feeling after Wednesday night". Asked if he felt he had their support, he said: "I guess so." Hodgson struck a determined tone, insisting that his comment about the absence of the "famous Anfield support" earned undue prominence. "I don't know how many times I've got to do a mea culpa," he said. "I'm still annoyed – if that's the word – that what I said was taken out of context."
Hodgson said the win showed that Liverpool could build towards European qualification and insisted the players were behind him. "If we had won on Wednesday night, you'd be asking me about the Champions' League," he said. "The negativity is being created here [in the press room]. It doesn't affect me in my job. I know when players are behind their club and their manager. Anyone who seriously suggests after watching us play that there are any problems on this front is being dishonest."
Liverpool's win saw them move up to ninth and they could go sixth if they win their games in hand over Bolton and Sunderland – their busy January is, on the face of things, a straightforward one in the League, with Blackpool, Fulham and Wolves following a trip to Blackburn on Wednesday.
The Hodgson programme notes suggested that the fans were on his mind: "I repeat every week that we are fully aware of our responsibilities and know how much supporting Liverpool means to you." There was no direct abuse from fans yesterday at Hodgson, who corrected one TV journalist's assertions that his players were booed at half-time. "It was the referee," he said. Only one banner had an anti-Hodgson message. "Fans New Year wish – new manager," it stated.