Rampant Reds punish Pompey

A YEAR can be a long time in football.

Was it really only 366 days ago since Rafael Benítez’s team went to Old Trafford and, having given Manchester United a goal start, won 4-1?

A 4-1 victory over doomed Portsmouth last night hardly paints over the cracks at Anfield yet Liverpool’s ruthless first half performance at least proves they are not ready to give up the chase for fourth spot just yet.

Benítez was delighted his unusually attacking approach paid dividends.

“We were expecting a good game, to play well and score goals. The most important thing was to play with an offensive mentality and a lot of quality.

“I think the team was doing well so the midfielders had a lot of possession, so maybe it is easier for people to see (Aquilani). I was very pleased for Ryan (Babel) as well, and Maxi (Rodriguez) did a good job.”

One black mark on an otherwise excellent night was an incident in which captain Steven Gerrard appeared to swing an arm at Pompey midfielder Michael Brown.

Gerrard was substituted immediately, but Benitez said simply: “We talked before about changing some players and Gerrard was one of them.”

Asked if he had seen the incident clearly, he smiled: “I have seen the four goals and I am very happy today. I think it was nothing.”

Opposite number Avram Grant was understandably subdued.

“Like against Arsenal and Manchester United, we lost our shape,” he said. “It was not a good seven minutes and we lost the game.

“I think the second half we got back into the game, we didn’t play brilliant but we could do more.

“It was not easy for us even though we scored one goal and created a couple of good chances before.”

There was little danger of Liverpool suffering defeat last night, three goals in the space of six first-half minutes destroying Portsmouth.

While Liverpool’s problems have been well documented, they are insignificant compared to Portsmouth’s.

Crisis club off the pitch, a team playing with admirable spirit, freedom and no little belief on it – and one win away from a second FA Cup final in three years no less.

Not that any of that disguises the fact that they have been dreadful this season – they are not bottom of the league without cause.

They arrived at Anfield on a run of just one win in 10 Premier League matches and have lost 14 of their 15 matches against teams in the top half of the Premier League. If that was not bad enough, David James was forced to miss the game with a calf injury.

That paved the way for Jamie Ashdown to make only his second Premier League start of the campaign yet he will be anxious to forget this game in a hurry.

He had enjoyed a trouble-free opening 25 minutes before his horrendous error opened the floodgates and allowed Liverpool to take total charge.

With home fans starting to get restless, Ashdown’s attempted clearance was charged down by Gerrard before Maxi Rodriguez pounced on the loose ball to tee-up Torres to tap home.

Portsmouth were shell-shocked.

Two minutes later the Premier League’s bottom club were 2-0 down after Torres turned provider for Babel to drill home his first top-flight goal since September from 12-yards.

Suddenly the confidence came oozing back into Benitez’s side. They had failed to score in three of their previous five outings yet Aquilani made it three goals in six minutes with the visitors defence virtually non existent.

Once again Torres was at the centre of the action after his back-heel allowed Aquilani to slide home from 12-yards.

Moments later Torres was denied his second and Liverpool’s fourth by the woodwork after a cracking right-foot shot.

Torres completed the rout in the 76th minute, his powerful shot from just inside the area capping a fine night’s work before Anfield’s lowest league attendance of the season.

Nadir Belhadj pulled a goal back but it was too little too late.

Substitutions for Liverpool: Kelly for Johnson 70; Benayoun for Gerrard 73, Ngog for Torres 80.

Substitutions for Portsmouth: Owusu-Abeyie for Hreidarsson 75, Mokoena for Diop 64, Webber for O’Hara 85.

Referee: S Attwell.

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