Fowler just the trick for 'babysitter'

Leicester City 1 Liverpool 4
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The Independent Online

Absence makes the heart grow stronger. Certainly, Gérard Houllier's will while Liverpool keep performing like this. If, as the club's caretaker manager Phil Thompson suggests, the Frenchman, recovering in hospital from surgery, had "his best day so far" following the midweek triumph in Kiev, then this will have been enough to have him dancing joyfully around the bedpans.

Well, not quite yet perhaps. As Thompson reported afterwards: "Gérard came out of intensive care today, they took all the wires out, and there were a lot, and he was moving to another room. He knew it was Saturday afternoon and I told the players to put on a performance for him." They did that in sufficient measure to have the match under control by half-time, with the only minus point being Steven Gerrard's substitution at half-time with a hamstring problem, a legacy from Kiev.

The Leicester faithful rose to applaud Houllier's name before the game as the pitchside PA announcer, Alan Birchenall, issued the club's best wishes. By the end they could only sit and appreciate the manner in which the Frenchman's team, which he has constructed over three years, dismantled their own. What's more, Robbie Fowler, having taken no part against Kiev, collected a hat-trick, his first goals in the Premiership this season.

Both Houllier and Thompson have exchanged words with the England striker in recent weeks, the former hinting that Fowler was not not fit enough to do himself justice, the latter during a training ground incident. Many will be intrigued to discover how Fowler's relationship with Thompson will proceed now the latter is in charge. Whatever their differences, Fowler's completion of his hat-trick with a viciously-struck volley in the final minute brought an embrace from Thompson as the striker left the pitch with the match ball tucked in his shirt. "The frightening thing is that Robbie can be even better," declared Thompson. "It's great for Robbie and great for the team because he's been searching for goals. He's been working very hard to get his game together.

"Gérard will be more than happy about Robbie's hat-trick because he's been trying to help him. But Robbie will have to keep working at it, his touch, his awareness, his link-up play. There's still improvement there." When asked whether this moment would finally mean an end to their much-publicised falling-out, Thompson would only say: "I'm not talking about that. It's not a problem."

The line-up for Tuesday's Champions' League victory in Kiev was decided by Houllier before he was taken ill last Saturday. This teamsheet, however, was the sole handiwork of Thompson, Liverpool's self-styled "babysitter". However, Thompson stressed that he had always made a significant contribution to team selection. "We've always talked together in our bunker. Gérard has never picked a team on his own. We've always had that trust between us."

Thompson's selection included Jamie Redknapp, recovering from a knee injury, for his first League start for 13 months and Steve Wright, the England under-21 international, for his first Premiership game of the season.

Before the start, it had been nine hours since Leicester last scored and although optimism abounds at Filbert Street, with the hopeful believing that the only way is up under the galvanisation of Dave Bassett and the former Brighton manager Micky Adams, the cynical would contend that there is plenty of scope for their further decline.

The contest was effectively decided within 10 minutes. After just three of them, Gary McAllister's corner fell obligingly for John Arne Riise who was allowed a snap volley from close range. Although Ian Walker parried the effort, it fell kindly for Fowler to convert his first League goal of the season on his fourth Premiership start. Seven minutes later, McAllister was again the provider, bending in a free-kick out on the left for defender Sammi Hyypia to head home.

To Leicester's credit, they refused to accept defeat as an inevitability. Robbie Savage and Dennis Wise scurried and jostled and generally made their presence felt in midfield. But as Bassett is well aware, such industry is futile without the players to convert opportunities. That failing was typified when Callum Davidson dispatched a raking pass forward into space, Ade Akinbiyi surged clear but then contrived to curl the ball over the bar, provoking the outburst, "What a waste of money". And that from the home fans.

Two minutes before the break, the visitors roused themselves for a third goal. Danny Murphy benefited when Lee Marshall stumbled as the pair chased a ball down the left, and when he played it inside Fowler struck the sweetest of left-foot finishes.

Leicester fought a valiant second-half rearguard action, reducing the arrears through the unlikely figure of Wise who headed wide of Jerzy Dudek following a fine move involving substitute Andrew Impey and Davidson. Leicester did enough to suggest the cause is not lost, but while Akinbiyi, one of predecessor Peter Taylor's more dubious purchases, continues to be so profligate, City have no hope.

The irrepressible Bassett knows as much, of course, and there is already talk of Leicester attempting to lure Brighton's Bobby Zamora here. For the moment, the manager is non-committal. "Ade is under a lot of pressure," said Bassett. "Whether he's just going through a bad time or he's not got the quality, time will tell. But the damage is done if you're not scoring goals. That's why Owen, Heskey and Fowler are worth so much money. They're the Dalmatian's cobblers because they are always likely to score. Mind you, it would have helped if we had defended."

In the final minute, two Liverpool substitutes, Jari Litmanen and Vladimir Smicer, conspired to produce a chance on the right, allowing Fowler to let fly with an unstoppable right-foot volley.

Far better than flowers and fruit for his stricken manager.

Leicester City 1 Liverpool 4

Wise 58 Fowler 5, 43, 90, Hyypia 10

Half-time: 0-3 Attendance: 21,886

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