The name of Robbie Fowler was sung once more by the Liverpool support yesterday and, as the returning hero watched from home, he will have noted that for all the progress his club have made under Rafael Benitez there is still a place for a lad from Toxteth with an eye for goal. Steven Gerrard and John Arne Riise earned Liverpool their place in the FA Cup fifth round as Benitez's strikers failed to score once again.
The second coming for the striker they know at Anfield as "God" is launched today when Fowler is presented as a Liverpool player for the second time in his career and there was more evidence yesterday that his signing is not just born of old-fashioned Scouse sentimentality. Benitez's side have just 29 goals in 21 Premiership games, their lowest total at this stage of the season in years, and their top scorer is Gerrard who has 17 goals from midfield. Fowler trained in Liverpool yesterday and, if he can convince Benitez of his fitness, will be in the squad for Wednesday's game against Birmingham City.
Benitez had watched his team obliterate Ports-mouth's fragile confidence in the closing stages of the first half only for Harry Redknapp's team to bite back 10 minutes after the break with a header from Sean Davis that ignited a determined fightback. The FA Cup is a competition that, after more than 18 months in England, Benitez has learnt to love and while Fowler is Cup-tied in this competition, his new manager talked yesterday about what the former England striker can do for Liverpool.
Benitez's pragmatism rarely lends itself to appraisals of a player's passion but he sounded as though he had been impressed with Fowler's desire to return to the club he left in 2001. "When he [Fowler] said he wanted to come back, I saw his passion," the Liverpool manager said. "He has a quality as a player but he has also got passion and wants to play for Liverpool. We talked for two or three days and when I told him the news he taught me a new phrase: 'Over the moon'."
After watching Djibril Cissé, Fernando Morientes and Peter Crouch - as a substitute - scarcely muster a shot on goal between them, Benitez said that "if we continue attacking like that, especially at home, we will create a lot of chances and Robbie Fowler will score a lot of goals".
Portsmouth ended brightly but they had started in a querulous mood. After 10 minutes Liverpool's Jan Kromkamp, making his first start for the club, was informally welcomed to England with an atrocious challenge from Vincent Pericard. It spooked the Dutch full-back to the extent that, later in the half, he executed an absurd dive to avoid a challenge from Matthew Taylor. Pericard was booked for his studs-up lunge at Kromkamp's ankle and his foul was the first in a crude sequence of three.
Richard Hughes did for Jamie Carragher and was also cautioned and Gregory Vignal, who had an inglorious spell at Liverpool, found himself admonished by Gerrard after his stray elbow caught the midfielder's head. Portsmouth had come to do battle and while there can be no doubt that Redknapp has his players' commitment, they are still woefully short of an artful attack.
Pedro Mendes hit the first shot of any note from either side on 25 minutes and, for a while, the home side's five-man midfield held firm against Liverpool. Their undoing was a reminder of how pitiless this game can be - Gerrard's corner bounced up against Dejan Stefanovic's arm and the referee, Phil Dowd, signalled a penalty. There was contact but no intent and Gerrard tucked home the spot- kick.
The second came three minutes before half-time when Riise chested a ball down into his stride on the left wing and the Portsmouth defence opened up invitingly for him. The right-back Linvoy Primus was nowhere to be seen and Gary O'Neil was five paces behind Riise when the ball kicked up sweetly from the turf and he drilled a low shot inside Dean Kiely's left post.
In the stand, Ports-mouth's new co-owner, Alexandre Gaydamak, would, as a Russian, have no reason to complain about the bone-chilling weather but would have been more concerned with the first-half display. "Terrific character," was how Redknapp described his team's resolve to fight back in the second half. "I thought we played better than we havesince I came back. I couldn't have asked for more effort."
Davis headed home Taylor's free-kick on 54 minutes and the goal catapulted Portsmouth back into the tie. The substitutes Svetoslav Todorov and Azar Karadas combined well late on and when Reina came out to flatten the latter in the area he was lucky to escape unpunished. More important to Portsmouth is Bolton at home on Wednesday - that same night at Anfield, the home fans will hope that their familiar new striker is in good enough shape to reacquaint himself with the famous red shirt.
Goals: Gerrard pen (35) 0-1; Riise (42) 0-2; Davis (54) 1-2.
Portsmouth (4-5-1): Kiely; Primus (Priske, 87), O'Brien, Stefanovic, Vignal (Todorov, h-t); O'Neil, Davis, Mendes, Hughes, Taylor; Pericard (Karadas, 67). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), A Cissé.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Kromkamp, Hyypia, Carragher, Warnock; Gerrard (Finnan, 81), Sissoko, Alonso, Riise; D Cissé (Kewell, 83), Morientes (Crouch, 73). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Traoré.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Booked: Portsmouth Pericard, Hughes, Davis; Liverpool Sissoko.
Man of the match: Gerrard.