Phil launches Anfield Tommo-hawk in defence of Houllier

GERARD HOULLIER, stricken by flu after a week of high pressure, turned his assistant Phil Thompson on Liverpool’s detractors last night.

And he could not have asked for more from his number two as Thompson manned the barricades in defence of his boss.

Thompson handled the pre-Southampton media conference, and went for the throat after a week in which chairman David Moores’ shareholders’ report has been used to attack Houllier.

The phrase that “the Champions League is our minimum requirement” has been thrown at Houllier with the assumption that his job is on the line.

Houllier will be on the bench against the Saints at Anfield, where fourth place could be claimed with a Liverpool win, but it was Thompson who came out fighting.

He said: “Things were taken out of context this week. We know we want Champions League football and that is all the chairman was saying, it is important this club is in the top competition.

“But that is all he was saying. There was nothing malicious, nobody was being put under threat, certainly not the boss.

“We know we are under pressure to play at the top level, and nobody knows that better than the boss.

“We are all in this together, and the spirit is there. Why did Steven Gerrard sign a new contract? It is because he sees the way this club is running, and will do in the future with Gerard in charge.

“The club is going in the right direction, that is why he committed himself and I am quite sure Michael Owen will do the same.”

Thompson, who claimed Liverpool were happy with a “decent draw” in the UEFA Cup third round after being paired with Bulgarian side Levski Sofia, hit out at Houllier’s detractors.

He said: “What has been said was mischievous, people jump on the slightest thing.

“We know our responsibilities here. Gerard, myself, the staff. Do people think that we would settle for being in the UEFA Cup?

Celtic manager Martin O’Neill believes the UEFA Cup would be just as difficult to win as the Champions League.

His side’s consolation for missing out on the knockout stages of Europe’s premier competition was a tricky third-round tie with Czech side Teplice.

“The final is a long way away,” reflected O’Neill, looking at a draw which includes the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan, Roma, Benfica, Marseille and Valencia plus Liverpool and Newcastle.

“We could easily get dumped out of the competition so we have to play strongly all the way through.

“I just think that we could get knocked out ourselves. The UEFA Cup is as difficult as the Champions League.

UEFA Cup (third round draw): Brondby v Barcelona, Parma v Genclerbirligi, Benfica v Rosenborg, Marseille v Dnipro, Celtic v FK Teplice, Perugia v PSV, Groclin Dyskobolia v Bordeaux, Valencia v Besiktas, Galatasaray v Villarreal, Club Brugge v Debrecen, Sochaux v Inter Milan, Liverpool v Levski Sofia, Spartak Moscow v Mallorca, Gaziantepspor v Roma, Auxerre v Panathinaikos, Valerenga v Newcastle

Ties to be played February 26 and March 3.

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