Benitez can see confidence growing

Rafael Benitez focused his sights on a top-four place in the Premiership after watching Liverpool destroy rock-bottom West Brom at The Hawthorns.

Rafael Benitez focused his sights on a top-four place in the Premiership after watching Liverpool destroy rock-bottom West Brom at The Hawthorns.

John Arne Riise led the way with a double as the visitors swept aside the Baggies, whose boss Bryan Robson is still without a win after seven matches in charge.

Benitez hailed a perfect start to the hectic festive programme and believes it can only inspire confidence in the bid to get into the Champions League again.

Benitez said: “We have two games at home coming up and if we have the same mentality in those games we can talk about more points.

“It is important for our confidence because we want to reduce the gap with the top four and we have a lot of games in a row now.

“But we only think about the next game. It is not important to see the end, it is important to see next week.”

Riise began the rout in the 17th minute when he finished off a perfect Steven Gerrard lob by volleying firmly past Russell Hoult.

Any hopes Albion might have had of extinguishing the memory of their recent humbling by Birmingham all but vanished in the 39th minute when Cosmin Contra was red-carded for handling a goal-bound effort by Antonio Nunez.

Hoult saved the resulting penalty from Milan Baros – with Darren Purse deflecting the rebound around the post – but there was no such respite for West Brom after the break.

Florent Sinama Pongolle, Gerrard, Riise again and Luis Garcia completed a victory which left beleaguered Robson’s troops five points adrift of safety and seemingly needing a miracle to survive.

Robson admitted: “We keep having lapses defensively and teams are not working too hard to score against us.

“I thought we matched Liverpool in the first half and made some situations ourselves, but once Contra got sent off Liverpool just had too much for us.

“You can prepare the players as best you can and you keep trying to find out why you concede bad goals early on in a game. At the moment we are making it very difficult for ourselves.”

Albion could have got off to an unlikely flyer in the 17th minute had the recalled Geoff Horsfield seized on Jamie Carragher’s defensive blunder.

The Liverpool man’s stray header sent the striker clear but he hesitated too long in front of goal and Sami Hyypia got back to make a crucial saving challenge.

From that moment on Liverpool went into overdrive – so much so that with half an hour left they could afford to haul off the inspirational Gerrard to save him for the rest of the busiest spell of the season.

Gerrard had inspired Riise’s opener with a brilliant lob and six minutes after the break Pongolle grabbed his first Premiership goal of the season after starting and finishing a move involving the Norwegian.

Gerrard slammed a superb third past Hoult before being substituted to a warm reception from both sets of supporters.

Riise rounded off a shot-happy display by blasting the fourth and substitute Garcia rounded off the win with two minutes left on the clock.

Robson admitted the loss of Contra had cost his side dear but refused to immediately criticise the Romanian for his actions.

Instead, he blamed his defence for once again putting themselves in such a bad position so early in the game.

Robson – who took his players off to Manchester immediately after the game to prepare for tomorrow’s clash with Kevin Keegan’s men – added: “I haven’t seen a replay of it but I would have thought it was just an instinctive reaction to stop the ball going into the net.”

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