Reds revival starts as dogged display puts down Wolves

THE opening is there for Liverpool but they have to take it.

Rafael Benitez has spent the last few weeks defending his team and justifying himself as always, insisting that they will qualify for the Champions League.

But now is the time for action and it is only results on the pitch that will shift heightened importance away from games against the likes of Aston Villa and Spurs, who Liverpool face in their next two league games, and being guiltily interested in the news that their Europa League opponents Unirea have dispensed with manager Dan Petrescu.

The next few weeks are all about turning their run of five wins in 18 games to 10 wins from 23, and going as long as they can without losing an eighth Premier League match. The fact that they have not won consecutive games in the league since September means that has to be earned, match after match, minute after minute, pass after pass.

The win over Wolves – particularly the manner – will not have Chelsea and United quaking and the ‘win is a win’ philosophy is only worth a damn if this is the basis of them stringing a few together. In this season’s Premier League, any consistent run will see them quickly move up the table and prove Benitez right, but that will mean Fernando Torres ignoring the groin problem hampering every burst, Steven Gerrard, like his team, building on this job done and their defence rediscovering the knack for grinding out clean sheets.

Gerrard, still a long way from his rampaging best, scored his first goal from open play in 13 games and this was a first clean sheet in five matches for Benitez’s team.

What is clear, is that they are not going to go from this kind of grinding, determined display to the free-flowing attacking play that characterised the final stages of last season’s near miss.

Too many are playing with a complete lack of sharpness or form for that, but it will be a test of their character and resilience to take their opportunities when they come along.

Yossi Benayoun is typical of their current predicament. The Israeli was flying in the opening weeks of the season but has been struggling with niggling injuries and was anonymous before Wolves had Stephen Ward sent off and Liverpool got themselves in front, when he started to exploit the extra space and even managed to get on the scoresheet.

A glance across to the other flank is also an eyebrow raiser. Fabio Aurelio is a decent left back with fine delivery from set pieces, but the fact Benitez has been forced to use him as a winger in recent weeks says it all about the lack of options available. How the Spaniard must crave the days when he was criticised for rotating. Giving Dirk Kuyt a breather is all that constitutes tinkering nowadays.

Benitez will have to raise transfer cash by selling players but the cash he could raise from flogging Ryan Babel, Andrea Dossena, Andriy Voronin and Philipp Degen would barely bring in a decent squad player.

As Benitez ponders his options for the game at Villa tomorrow, the need for new blood will be looming large, as he looks to freshen up a side that toiled against Wolves. They began well, with Alberto Aquilani playing steadily but they could not punish Wolves despite dominating the opening quarter and as the visitors enjoyed a flurry of chances as the interval approached, each misplaced pass was greeted by a greater howl.

The catalyst for victory came eight minutes after the restart, when Ward, booked moments earlier for a tug on Benayoun, tripped Lucas. Referee Andre Marriner mistakenly showed Christophe Berra a yellow card only to send off the right man off, according to Mick McCarthy, thanks to Benitez and Sammy Lee telling fourth official Phil Dowd.

Emiliano Insua sent over a fine cross from the left that Gerrard powerfully-headed past Marcus Hahnemann before Aurelio’s deep cross from the left found Benayoun on the far side of the area and his drive deflected in off Karl Henry.

Tomorrow will decide whether this was the start of a genuine upturn or another frustrating corner turned in this most frustrating of seasons.

Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands). 7. Almost dropped a clanger over the Ward sending off but the right man walked. While McCarthy was annoyed, Marriner made the right call in the end.

Match rating: 6/10. Not bad but far from great. Wolves had no chance after Ward was dismissed and Liverpool took full advantage.

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