As the relegation fight in the Premier League enters its final straight, those clubs involved could well be casting envious glances at Kevin Phillips.
Speaking ahead of the final day of last season, the veteran striker revealed that should he score the goal to keep Birmingham City in the top-flight, it would rank amongst the highlights of his career. As it turned out, this dream was denied him as he didn’t feature at all as the Blues suffered a late 2-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur, resulting in their relegation to the Championship.
Phillips had started just five times for Alec McLeish’s City during the season, and ahead of the defeat at White Hart Lane, he was asked if he would consider hanging up his boots in the summer. His contract was up at St Andrews and a lack of first team action made it unlikely he would want an extension, and as he was approaching his 38th birthday, it wasn’t an unreasonable question.
“I won’t retire, no chance,” replied Phillips. “I will definitely be playing next season. In the Championship, who knows? I don’t know what team I will be playing for next season. But I feel too fit to retire. I feel too good to retire.”
Despite his advancing years, there was never going to be a shortage of takers. But whilst a number of clubs in the Football League were linked with offering him a deal, the calls from Premier League clubs never came. So in July, Phillips accepted an offer to join Blackpool who, like Birmingham, also lost their place in the elite division on the final day of the season when they lost at Manchester United.
The decision of Ian Holloway to offer the experienced forward a twelve-month contract already looks an inspired one. On Tuesday night Phillips’ opening goal looked to count for nothing as Leicester City edged towards a 3-2 win at Bloomfield Road. But in stoppage time he pounced to rescue what could be a vital point as the Lancashire side look to secure a Championship playoff berth. It was his 16th goal of the season in his 35th appearance, of which 18 have come from a starting position.
If he manages to help the Seasiders to promotion at the first attempt, who’s to say Phillips won’t be given, at the age of 39, one last hurrah in the Premier League? And those who pass him in the opposite direction may just think back to last summer and regret not giving him a chance. Even those who are safe, such as Everton and Stoke City who have both scored 28 goals each, have been crying out for a goalscorer for much of the season. Even McLeish, who so often overlooked Phillips last season, would possibly welcome him at Aston Villa to boost their return of 31.
Looking at the current bottom three, Wigan Athletic have the lowest number of goals with 25, whilst the bottom-placed club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, have just 30, which is just one shy of Bolton Wanderers’ tally. Queens Park Rangers, who will fall back into the drop zone if the latter win their game in hand, had just 29 before their dramatic 3-2 win over Liverpool at Loftus Road on Wednesday.
There is no guarantee that had any of these clubs taken a chance on Phillips they would be out of danger. After all, whilst he has always been amongst the goals, he has also suffered relegation with Sunderland and Southampton, before completing an unwanted hat-trick last season. Hardly a lucky charm. But for those fighting for their Premier League survival this season, and struggling for goals, they’d love to have a Kevin Phillips to call upon.
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