Whelan: Liverpool are in a mess

Wigan owner says fans are being short-changed under regime of Gillett and Hicks

Wigan Athletic's owner Dave Whelan last night expressed sympathy for Liverpool supporters for enduring the club's period of ownership under George Gillett and Tom Hicks, describing their tenure as "a mess".

Liverpool's 1-0 defeat at Wigan on Monday leaves their chase for a Champions League place – critical to the Americans' pursuit of income to make their debt repayments – looking as forlorn as ever and Whelan, who detected minimal atmosphere when the Latics visited Liverpool on 16 December, clearly senses a club listing badly. "The big sympathy I have is for the Liverpool supporters because they are a fantastic lot," Whelan said. "Liverpool are in a mess. The owners, being American, I don't think they feel what we [as fans] feel. I'm really, really sorry for their supporters. We went to Anfield earlier in the season and there's absolutely no atmosphere and no heart at all at present. The supporters feel that and I think the players are starting to feel it."

Liverpool's struggle to attain blue-chip status is not helping the pursuit of £100m, which its bankers Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia has demanded it finds from new equity partners before the club's debt is due to be refinanced in July. Managing director Christian Purslow's most recent public estimate of when the £100m might be found, in his prediction to members of the Spirit of Shankly group, was Easter. That would leave him with four weeks to persuade a prospective buyer that the high-profile nature of a deal to take control of the club should not be a deterrent. One alternative is the banks taking control and selling the club. Whatever the solution, it is Liverpool rather than Manchester United – with the so-called "Red Knight" takeover plan in its infancy – which will make financial headlines in the short term.

Liverpool can at least take comfort from the fact that the Football Association appears unlikely to pursue a charge against captain Steven Gerrard over a two-fingered gesture he made during the defeat at Wigan and accepts that Gerrard might have been complaining about a second offence against himself.

Liverpool insisted immediately after the defeat at the DW Stadium that Gerrard had not committed an offence commensurate with a charge of bringing the game into disrepute.

The manager Rafael Benitez's problems did not recede yesterday, when Yossi Benayoun missed training after sustaining an ankle injury at Wigan and is a doubt for the testing trip to Lille for tomorrow's Europa League last-16 tie, in which Benitez admits they cannot afford a defeat. "We have to do it [against Lille] and I believe in the players," he added.

His belief may be misplaced since striker Ryan Babel, one of the players who has been inconsistent since his £11m arrival from Ajax in July 2007, admitted confidence is fragile. "We still have hope and faith that we can get fourth place," the Netherlands international said.

"It will be harder in every game. It was going to be difficult even before this game. We needed to get three points and that's why the disappointment is so big that we failed. It is disappointing that we can't create a kind of confidence with winning games. One defeat seems to spoil all the confidence that we have and then we have to start again. We have made it a little difficult for ourselves."

Daniel Agger should be fit having recovered from an illness which reduced him to the role of unused substitute against Wigan.

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