Carragher switches focus to Leicester

Liverpool give backing to beleaguered defender as Newcastle manager expresses fears for injury-prone midfielder

Kieran Daley
Wednesday 30 January 2002 01:00

Phil Thompson thanked and praised referee Mike Riley for saving Jamie Carragher from further trouble following the Liverpool player's coin-throwing misdemeanour at Highbury on Sunday.

Carragher, facing police investigation plus Football Association and club disciplinary action for hurling a coin back into the crowd during Liverpool's FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, returns to the relative safety of Anfield for tonight's Premier League match against Leicester.

Thompson believes things could have got far worse for the England defender had Riley not acted as he did in pulling the player away from the trouble spot before sending him off.

Thompson, who has demanded an end to "player baiting" by fans, will have Carragher available as he awaits any further action from the authorities. But Thompson, almost certainly without Steven Gerrard against Leicester with a neck injury, said: "Mike Riley showed great commonsense to take Jamie away from the incident like that, and I thank him for that. That was a clever thing to do, because otherwise it could have ignited more fury if it had stayed in the area it all happened. I congratulate him for his handling of the situation. The referee had no option with what he did. The referee had a very good game. It was an extremely difficult decision for him to take, but he did very well."

Carragher will start a suspension in a fortnight's time that could see him out of the domestic game for several weeks, but Thompson is giving the full-back his total support. He added: "I would like to think Jamie has suffered enough. But we cannot allow this to keep going on. Players are being baited, and it was a shame that it had to be Jamie. The players are the ones who are being baited more than ever. We have to stop it before somebody is seriously hurt. Someone could jump on the field and take some sort of revenge for something that has happened.

"It has to stop. My own players are my immediate concern, but it is really for the players throughout the leagues that something has to be done to stop this. It could soon be heavier objects being thrown, and a serious injury could happen."

Thompson, who will also have Nicolas Anelka available to face Leicester after a shoulder problem forced him off at Highbury, added: "We have to appeal and plead with people to be sensible going to games. How can you take every coin off everybody?"

As Liverpool prepared to take on the Foxes, the Leicester manager, Dave Bassett, said he is worried about Emile Heskey facing his old club, even though he is enduring a goal drought worse than Ade Akinbiyi is at Filbert Street.

Akinbiyi has scored only three times in 23 games, his last coming in a 2-0 win at Aston Villa on 1 December. Signing from Wolves 18 months ago for £5m he has borne the brunt of fans' wrath, and been blamed for Leicester's plight in the Premier League where they are seven points adrift of safety. Heskey has scored once in his last 34 games for Liverpool and England.

"Emile did well when he first joined Liverpool, but sometimes the kind of run he is on can happen to a striker and they have their little spells where they either score or they don't," Bassett said. "But despite such a poor run he is still a player I fear."

With the World Cup now rapidly approaching, Heskey is in danger of losing his place in the England squad if he does not start scoring. Bassett, though, feels time is still on Heskey's side and that the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, will not have ruled him out of contention.

"It's quite possible Heskey and Owen will still be the [striking] team for England in Japan, but then Sven will also be looking at Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Robbie Fowler. I'm just hoping he doesn't find his form again tonight – although I'm also hoping half of Liverpool's strikers fall down the stairs and are injured."

Leicester have James Scowcroft and Jacob Laursen fit after being out with a neck injury and flu, respectively, but Bassett is still without a seven players, including the suspended Robbie Savage.

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