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Portsmouth 2 Liverpool 3: Changes get lucky Benitez off the hook

09 February 2009 01:41
Rafa Benitez congratulated himself on another tactical masterstroke, but it was hard to escape the feeling that this vital win owed much more to luck than judgment.

Yes, Liverpool

were rescued by the timely release of Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt from the bench to terrorise a tiring Portsmouth

defence stuck firmly in the habit of self destruction.

And, yes, the nature of this thrilling victory restored pride to the red side of Merseyside after their FA Cup defeat at the hands of Everton and belief that this is a genuine title challenge.



Grabbing the: glory: Torres celebrates his late winner as Benayoun joins the fun

But in the background lurks the nagging fear that arch-interventionist Benitez is finding it increasingly difficult to resist fiddling with things best left alone.

Even his own players, well accustomed to their manager's tinkering ways, were stunned by the team he unveiled hours before kick-off at Fratton Park, with three at the back and Fabio Aurelio in central midfield because Torres, Kuyt, Xabi Alonso and Albert Riera were deemed too tired to start.

'It's not my natural position,' said left back Aurelio, who confirmed he first learned of the tactical switch on Saturday morning, adding: 'I played there for Valencia, so Rafa decided to do it and I tried my best. It's difficult when you haven't been playing in that position for a long time but I thought I could help.'

 EXCLUSIVE: Adams sacked, with Avram Grant and Sven Goran-Eriksson on list for Pompey

Super-sub Torres fires late winner to put Liverpool back on top

Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch joins Keane in Rafa Benitez blast

LIVERPOOL FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE WEB

PORTSMOUTH FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE WEB

In a 1-1 draw at Wigan, less than a fortnight ago, Benitez withdrew Torres and Steven Gerrard in the closing stages to preserve their energy levels.

Perhaps he was right. Gerrard pulled a hamstring in the FA Cup tie at Goodison Park and Torres looked weary but, after Wednesday's internationals, all Liverpool's players are guaranteed a 10-day break from action before they tackle Manchester City.

'The manager is being very careful at the minute,' said Jamie Carragher on the subject of Torres.

'He's just getting back to fitness, we've played extra time and now he's going off with Spain. You've got to be careful with the injuries he's had this season. He's doing OK, with the goals he's scoring, but he's probably still not 100 per cent.'

Not everyone was convinced by the selection policy, even after the win.





Unleashed: Kuyt beats David James to equalise the score with five minutes left

'They could have been 3-0 up if they'd started with that team and that tempo,' said former Anfield favourite Steve McManaman.

'It's not as though they've been rested, they spent all afternoon warming up.'

Carragher insisted the late winner illustrates Liverpool's resilience. 'It's not just a one off, we've done it quite a bit this season,' said the captain in Gerrard's absence.

'We haven't been that good over the years at coming from behind, but we've had it in our locker this season and hopefully that will push us as close as possible to the title.'

Concerns about the fitness of Torres, who has missed chunks of the campaign with hamstring problems, only raise questions about the sale of Robbie Keane on deadline day.

Teenager David Ngog did not look ready to lead the line at Fratton Park and he came off rubbing his hamstring when replaced by Kuyt. 'He was a bit tired,' said Benitez, predictably. 'I don't think it's serious but we will need to check.'

Ngog, 19, barely troubled Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin but, once Kuyt and Torres joined Yossi Benayoun up front, Portsmouth were reduced to a nervous wreck.





Driven to despair: Crouch reacts to a missed opportunity and a defeat which spelled the end for boss Tony Adams

David Nugent had opened the scoring but an awful back pass from Peter Crouch forced David James to handle illegally and Aurelio equalised from Alonso's indirect free-kick.

Hermann Hreidarsson was unmarked as he headed Pompey back in front, but an error from Distin allowed Kuyt to make it 2-2 with five minutes left, and Torres won the game in stoppage time with a header after shaking off his marker with a wonderful piece of goalmouth movement.

After scoring his first league goal since March, Hreidarsson confessed the Liverpool fightback had been hard to accept. 'I'm devastated," said the Iceland defender.

'We've been playing all right in the last three games but at least we're scoring now. There are a lot of positives. We can't keep saying this, but it's better to lose like this.

'We haven't been battered, it could have gone either way. They nicked it in the end but we're not far off. There's not a lot we need to repair. Obviously we have to cut out the individual mistakes.'

So relief for Benitez but agony for Tony Adams, who booted his chair after Kuyt's goal, and learned last night that he has paid the price for a ninth league game without a win by losing his job as Portsmouth manager.

PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): James 5; Johnson 6, Campbell 6, Distin 5, Hreidarsson 6; Basinas 8, Davis 7, Mullins 6 (Kranjcar 46min, 6), Belhadj 6; Crouch 6, Nugent 7. Booked: Hreidarsson.

LIVERPOOL (3-4-3): Reina 5; Skrtel 6, Carragher 7, Agger 6; Arbeloa 6, Mascherano 7, Aurelio 7, Dossena 6 (Alonso 67, 6); Benayoun 6, Ngog 5 (Kuyt 56, 8), Babel 5 (Torres 76).

Man of the match: Fernando Torres.

Referee: Howard Webb.

 EXCLUSIVE: Adams sacked, with Avram Grant and Sven Goran-Eriksson on list for Pompey

Super-sub Torres fires late winner to put Liverpool back on top

Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch joins Keane in Rafa Benitez blast

LIVERPOOL FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE WEB

PORTSMOUTH FC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE WEB



 

Source: Daily_Mail