Sunderland 1 Liverpool 0: Bent makes life a beach for Benitez
18 October 2009 12:25
Never was a piece of mischief more costly.even by Scally standards! It would be stretching the point in a match that was decided by a shot being deflected into the net by a beach ball to say that, at times, Liverpool played like a set of donkeys.
But, by their own high standards, they were not very good.
Rafa Benitez refused to write off his team's title chances this early in the season after their fourth league defeat - their third in succession in all matches without scoring a goal.
'I think it will be different this time.' he said. 'In a normal season the team at the top of the table will be winning every single game but this time there will be a big difference.
'Chelsea has lost two games and I think we will see a lot of teams at the top of the table losing games.' But he admitted:
'We didn't play well. We gave the ball away and, for this reason, they had counter-attacks and had a lot of chances.
'It is bad but it depends on the next games. If we can win two or three games in a row, again we will be at the top. So it is a question of keeping your confidence and working hard to do better. We have an important game on Tuesday and next Sunday and we'll see what happens then. We had players we knew could be tired after the internationals and then, after four minutes, it was even more difficult. We know we have to do better if we want to win these type of games.'
If the game's pivotal point came when Darren Bent scored his fifth goal in as many matches when his shot was deflected in off the beach ball - red and bearing a Liverpool crest, which had been thrown from behind the visitors' goal seconds earlier - the absence of Stevie Gerrard and Fernando Torres would have been felt even more keenly had it not been for the home team's wayward finishing.
The former Spurs striker, who once famously missed a chance that Harry Redknapp said his wife could have scored, has relished his renaissance on Wearside. He was on hand to hit a rightfooter after a neat build-up involving Steed Malbranque and Andy Reid-and the beach ball did the rest. Sunderland's first league goal against Liverpool in nine years could hardly have come in more fortuitous circumstances.
But it was not all good fortune for the Wearsiders. They had Lee Cattermole and Kenwyne Jones both carried off on stretchers within six minutes in the second half after heavy Liverpool challenges, the second of which resulted in Bruce's angry confrontation with Benitez. Only a timely intervention by fourth official Neil Swarbrick prevented what might have become a nastier situation.
Jones was later taken to hospital with what looked a serious ankle injury. 'That was the downside for me, losing those two players,' said the Sunderland boss.
While Craig Gordon's only outstanding save came in the third of seven minutes of added time - a fine recovery to block David Ngog's effort after he had 'spilled' one from Dirk Kuyt - Pepe Reina was much busier. Bent, who according to Bruce has started the season in 'blistering form', could have had a hat-trick.
He was denied by Reina, who recovered to push the striker's shot away in the 54th minute when he looked to have manufactured an open goal.
Then, seven minutes later, he struck the outside of a post after his fierce pace had again left the Liverpool defenders gasping. Malbranque was also frustrated by a superbly timed tackle from Jamie Carragher when he looked to have the goal at his mercy.
Bruce, hesitant to name him man of the match following the controversy over his choice of David Beckham in the England-Belarus game on Wednesday, nevertheless picked out the performance of his skipper Lorik Cana as 'special'. The Albanian was outstanding, switched to the centre of defence in a team reshuffle after George McCartney went off at halftime because he felt unwell.
'It's wrong on days like today to single out individuals but I think I've witnessed an exceptional performance from a central defender. He was unbelievable; great in the air, the tackles he made, the interceptions he made - and he passed it well, too. He can take a pat on the back for what he did. 'I thought we deserved it. These are the kind of days I came up here for.'