The Liverpool chief opted to withdraw Fowler with two minutes left, and 60 seconds later the Merseysiders were awarded a penalty.
The Kop erupted into “we want Fowler” but by then it was too late for the skipper-for-the-day to step up and sign off his Anfield career with a spot-kick in front of the fans who idolise him. Charlton had led twice, through Matt Holland and Darren Bent, but Xabi Alonso and then Harry Kewell — with that penalty — gave Liverpool the point they needed to clinch third spot.
Fowler was playing his last game in a red shirt at Anfield before his contract expires, and Benitez said: “I was just too quick. If I had waited a minute more, Robbie could have scored from the spot in front of the Kop, that would have been a perfect way to end for him. I had wanted to give him the chance of a personal ovation, but it was just one of those things in the end.”
Benitez added: “We made too many mistakes and it was not easy with the Champions League final at the end of the month. They had other things on their mind.”
Charlton boss Alan Pardew had seen his side bid farewell to the Premier League with a display that will give him confidence for next season.
He said: “Liverpool have a habit of scoring late goals against me, it happened in last season’s FA Cup final against West Ham.”
That final was exactly a year ago to the day, and Pardew still had kind words for his former club.
He said: “I am delighted West Ham stayed up. They have got back their fighting spirit in these last few weeks and their form.
As for Charlton, Pardew said: “I had tried to make sure we were positive all week after our relegation was confirmed. I wanted us to play with a smile and take Liverpool on.
“Liverpool were not too focused, they had other things on their minds, but I was delighted with my side. We will be a big scalp next season, but I believe we can come straight back.
“I have to talk to a few players who are out of contract next week, and obviously things will happen.
“But I felt that this display was a statement for next season, we played well and it was almost a perfect way to go, apart from the result.”
Opta Fact: Charlton were the first away side to score more than once at Anfield since Liverpool lost 4-1 to Chelsea in October 2005
Padelli, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa (Alonso 61), Gerrard, Mascherano, Zenden (Kewell 57), Riise, Kuyt, Fowler (Crouch 88).
Randolph, Young, Bougherra, Hreidarsson, Thatcher, Ambrose (Hughes 52), Holland, Song Billong, Zheng (Marcus Bent 90), Sam (Hasselbaink 82), Darren Bent.
Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).