Houllier unconcerned as Yeovil wait around corner

MICHAEL OWEN is being lined up to ride to Gerard Houllier’s rescue and kill off yet another barrage of speculation about the Frenchman’s future.

The Liverpool boss, just 48 hours before a romantic FA Cup third round cracker at Yeovil, has to endure yet again being told that Martin O’Neill will have his job by the summer.

But Houllier admitted that he has been joking with his players about the claims, while assessing whether Owen can return to the side after three months of injury nightmare.

And in the knowledge that the whole country, barring Liverpool fans, will be willing the Third Division side to yet another giant killing, Houllier insisted that speculation about his own future in charge of Anfield does not upset his players or distract them.

He said: “The players are like me, they do not care what is being said.

“It made me laugh, it is not a new story. But it is not unsettling, it just does not affect us.

“The players just ignore it, but I joke with them about it all. I’m quite confident, it is nothing new.”

Defeat at Yeovil would do nothing to aid Houllier’s cause, and would increase to a crescendo calls for his head.

Houllier is aware of that, but is still confident about his future and his chairman David Moores’ support, to be planning long term for all of 2004.

With French star Djibril Cisse confirming that he still intends to join Liverpool in the summer, Houllier is planning a reassuring speech on Monday night at the club’s AGM.

To go into that without the expected victory at Yeovil would be unthinkable for the Frenchman.

He said: “My aims for 2004 are to win a trophy, which is what this club is all about, and to improve our position in the league, which we need to do, and that means Champions League.

“I do not intend asking the chairman for any money in the transfer window, I am happy with my squad.”

One thing he will hope he can do is to keep Owen fit and firing. Three months without the England striker has weakened Liverpool considerably.

Houllier says: “There has been a lot said and written about this tie with Yeovil, and it is because of the competition and it’s image.

“Michael will travel, which means he is ready to play. The final decision will come at the last minute.

“It is great for us. Michael has been out since October 4 and that’s a long time.

“He’s back, that’s all I can say. We’ve missed him. Ask Arsenal if they could play three months without Thierry Henry, or Manchester United without Ruud Van Nistelrooy, not just for a couple of games, but three months.”

He added: “Michael is the main scorer at this club and he has been that for quite a few years. He scored eight goals in the first few weeks, then he was injured against Arsenal.

“Now he is approaching his best again.”

Liverpool will be without skipper Steven Gerrard and young goalkeeper Chris Kirkland after their Christmas injuries, but the rest of their injured stars are all approaching fitness.

Houllier said: “I will not be buying in the transfer window. By the end of the month all my players will be back, they will be like new signings for us.”

Liverpool know that Yeovil will play like men inspired in front of the nation on TV, but they are just a little upset by the boisterous words coming from Yeovil manager Gary Johnson.

“Our players respect the opposition more than the opposition respect us at the moment,” said Houllier.

“Respect is one of our most important values, whatever team we play. Whether it is in Europe or England we always give our opponents the respect they deserve.

“I understand why there is a fuss about this game, but my players will be up for it physically and mentally.”

Yeovil are without suspended striker Jake Edwards, who is midway through a three-match ban following his controversial dismissal in the 1-0 derby win at Bristol Rovers.

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