GeRARD HOULLIER could be forgiven for thinking he was losing his mind. "Surely," he must have thought, "it was eight players I signed this summer, not nine, and I certainly would have remembered signing an Englishman." There before him stood a player he could barely have recognised: actually it was more a case of Robbie Fowler looking like his old self than anyone new. Whatever, Liverpool and England should be delighted.
For the first time in years, Fowler's pre-season has been untroubled by injury and it showed. He was sharp and eager and almost single-handedly turned on its head a performance that in the first half had looked a very long way from being that of the championship contenders the opposition manager believes Liverpool to be.
Actually, Houllier maintained that Fowler's appearance came as no surprise. "I've noticed a difference in him in training and off the field," he said. "Did I expect that difference? Yes, otherwise I would not have appointed him vice-captain."
The Frenchman was probably talking more about Fowler's moral responsibilities than his playing ones there after the "line-sniffing" and Le Saux episodes last season, but, if Fowler proves to be a more mature performer all around, then Houllier will indeed have got himself a new player. One could almost sense the manager's excitement at the prospect of having him in harness with Michael Owen when the latter returns from injury. Owen must be licking his lips, too.
As for Houllier's other "new" arrivals, well, so much for the superior value to be found abroad. He might have been better advised to have gone for more quality than quantity and shopped a little closer to his new- found home because his best players were all English; Jamie Redknapp gave one of his more forceful performances to suggest that he, too, might finally be maturing while Jamie Carragher just managed to prevent the new Liverpool defence from giving a repeat performance of the old one.
Watching the Dutchman Sander Westerveld flapping at his crosses, it might have been David James all over again, while one hopes the indecision of the Finnish centre-back, Sami Hyypia, was just down to his new surroundings. After 25 minutes Dietmar Hamann, the club's record pounds 8m signing, must have thought he was well out of it when he limped off with an ankle injury.
One player who did manage to redeem himself was Titi Camara, the Guinean striker from Marseilles. Over-elaborate is not the word for it, but if he can be a little more direct, he certainly packs a knock-out punch and deserved his first goal on English soil when he followed up a shot by Fowler which Pavel Srnicek spilled.
By then Liverpool were a goal up thanks to Fowler's keen sense of opportunism when with no time or space, following a pass from the lively Vladimir Smicer, he picked his finish perfectly, prompting the acknowledgement from Danny Wilson that "it takes a special player to be able to do that".
The Wednesday manager was sufficiently big enough to be able to say the same of Benito Carbone's 89th-minute beautifully chipped volley, having left out the little Italian to see what response he would get from a player who has vowed to leave the club at the end of his contract next summer. Carbone answered him in convincing style, not that there was ever much doubt in the minds of the fans, who gave him a huge reception when he came on for the impressive Gilles de Bilde, the player bought to replace him. Contract-breakers Hasselbaink and Anelka please note.
Goals: Fowler (74) 0-1; Camara (85) 0-2; Carbone (89) 1-2.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Newsome, Thome, Walker, Hinchliffe; Donnelly, Alexandersson, Sonner, Rudi; Sibon (Cresswell, 59), De Bilde (Carbone, 68). Substitutes not used: Briscoe, Haslam, Pressman (gk).
Liverpool (4-4-2): Westerveld; Heggem, Hyypia, Carragher, Matteo; Smicer, Hamann (Thompson, 24), Redknapp, Berger (Staunton, 81); Fowler, Camara (Meijer, 89). Substitutes not used: Song, Nielsen (gk).
Referee: G Poll (Tring). Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Donnelly. Liverpool: Thompson.
Man of the match: Fowler.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies