TONY ADAMS knows a thing or two about denying Liverpool titles, and for long periods last night it looked like he would deal a major blow to their hopes of winning the Premier League crown, but Rafael Benitez will believe that the manner of this victory will only enhance the Reds’ confidence that the drought could end this season.
Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Manchester United in September was followed up by a stifling goalless draw with Stoke at Anfield and it had looked like the 1-0 victory at Chelsea would be followed up in exactly the same manner until Papa Bouba Diop inexplicably handled Fabio Aurelio’s corner to enable Gerrard to score a decisive spot-kick that keeps Liverpool top.
It will be pointed out that prospective champions should have made shorter work of a side like Pompey but Benitez will be happy simply to have kept up a fine record that has seen his side drop just four points in the league so far this season.
If there had been concerns that Dirk Kuyt’s work-rate would mean that Liverpool would not have enough people in central attacking positions, those fears were allayed in the early stages as the hosts managed to play around an Adams’ team that employed a rigid five-man midfield, with Jermain Defoe’s six goals in nine Premier League starts only judged to be good enough for a place on the bench.
With less than a minute gone, Kuyt shot over from just inside the area after ex-Liverpool man Peter Crouch could only get a weak header to Steven Gerrard’s corner. Then, after collecting Alvaro Arbeloa’s pass, the Dutchman was unlucky to see his shot deflect off Sylvain Distin and be palmed onto the post by David James in the 10th minute.
The Reds continued to create openings, with Lucas Leiva wasting a great opportunity when left unmarked at Fabio Aurelio’s corner only to head over the bar from 12 yards.
Shortly after, Xabi Alonso drove just high and wide after Ryan Babel had made space with a powerful run down the left flank.
Gerrard was being well shackled by the impressive Lassana Diarra but finally found the space to create an opening for Kuyt, only for the Dutchman to fire into the side-netting.
And after Arbeloa curled a shot narrowly off-target, the Liverpool skipper’s thumping drive was not held by James but was hacked away with Kuyt about to pounce in first-half stoppage time.
At the other end, Diarra fired wide of goal from a knock-down from Crouch as Liverpool were finding it harder and harder to create opportunities.
When openings did come, Kuyt headed into the ground from a Babel cross and Lucas had a shot deflected wide after he burst onto Gerrard’s pass, with Sami Hyypia heading inches wide from the resulting corner.
Benayoun was denied by a fine sliding challenge from Distin and James pulled off a stunning block from Aurelio’s blast.
But just as Portsmouth were looking like holding on for a point, Diop threw two hands at Aurelio’s resulting corner as he attempted to stop Hyypia and Gerrard made no mistake from the spot to the relief of the Kop.
LIVERPOOL: Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Aurelio; Lucas, Alonso; Pennant (Benayoun 63), Gerrard (Keane 90), Babel (Riera 72); Kuyt.
Subs not used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Agger, Keane, Riera, Mascherano.
PORTSMOUTH: James; Pamarot, Distin, Kaboul, Belhadj; Utaka (Defoe 85), Diarra (Hughes 80), Davis, Diop, Traore (Kranjcar 65); Crouch.
Subs not used: Ashdown, Kanu, Hughes, Defoe, Mvuemba, Hreidarsson.
Referee: Steve Tanner.
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