Gerrard dishes out punishment after new boy Adams drops Defoe

Rafael Benítez claimed that Sunday's win over Chelsea sent out a message about Liverpool's title credentials but he can rightly maintain that this hard-earned victory, secured by Steven Gerrard's penalty with a quarter of an hour remaining, does exactly the same thing.

The 2-1 win over Manchester United in September preceded a stifling goalless draw with Stoke City at Anfield and it had looked as if the three points at Stamford Bridge would be followed up in the same manner until Papa Bouba Diop inexplicably handled Fabio Aurelio's corner to enable Gerrard to score a decisive penalty that keeps Liverpool top.

Until that point Portsmouth's stubbornness in Tony Adams' first match in charge had been commendable and they would have taken the lead had Diop not wasted a glorious opening in the first half.

But having made four changes to the team that beat Chelsea, with Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Albert Riera and Robbie Keane dropping out, Benítez feels the victory was evidence that his squad has the depth to last the course.

"After Chelsea, to get three points tonight was really important and to change four or five players and still win is a message for the squad that we can change players and we can still win," he said. "We will try to be top of the table for a long time but we will just keep thinking about one game at a time and the next three points and that's it."

The selection decision that provoked the most comment, however, was Adams leaving Jermain Defoe, who has scored six goals in nine Premier League starts, on the bench as he looked to contain Liverpool.

But Adams was adamant that Defoe had accepted his decision to play Peter Crouch as a lone forward and said: "J is one hundred per cent behind me. I've had a good response from all of them but particularly J. He understands and next week it might be Peter's turn or someone else's turn."

Dirk Kuyt's willingness to work deep and wide might not make him a candidate for the lone striker's role on a full-time basis but he threatened again when he was found by Alvaro Arbeloa's square pass and his drilled shot from the edge of the penalty area took a slight deflection off Sylvain Distin before David James palmed on to the post.

Famed for his central role in Arsenal's vintage back four, Adams would also have been baffled that his new defence left Lucas Leiva a free header that the Brazilian sent over from Aurelio's corner, while Xabi Alonso drove wide of goal after a strong run down the left by Ryan Babel.

Sitting just in front of Gerrard, Lassana Diarra was doing a useful job at blocking the supply to the Liverpool captain and Portsmouth even managed an attack midway through the opening period, when Diop headed straight at Pepe Reina after Sean Davis' cross flicked off Sami Hyypia into his path six yards from goal.

After the interval Liverpool were finding it ever harder to create anything and, when they did, Kuyt thumped a header into the ground and Hyypia saw his own headed effort fly inches wide from a Gerrard corner.

Then came a flurry of Liverpool openings, the clearest of which saw James turn away Aurelio's thumping drive. But from the Brazilian's corner Diop bizarrely handled in an attempt to deny Hyypia and Liverpool were awarded a penalty that Gerrard converted to James' right to spark an outpouring of relief from the Kop.

Liverpool then gave in to a different form of anxiety as they dropped deep and failed to keep hold of the ball leading to a collective gasp when Defoe went down in the area late on. But they held on.

Adams refused to be critical of Diop and said: "I spoke to him about it and certainly didn't blame him. I think Sami got a yard on him and he panicked and I told him that next time the other lad's still got to get it past England's No1 so he's got to get his body in there and put him off. It was technical rather than throwing a teacup at him but one moment of madness costs you at a place like this."

Liverpool 1 – 0
(HT 0 – 0)
Gerrard (pen) 76

Bookings Diarra 49
Belhadj 75
Diop 75

Liverpool's Percentage Portsmouth's Percentage
Corners 7 87% 1 13%
Goal attempts 22 84% 4 16%
On target 10 90% 1 10%
Fouls 13 52% 12 48%
Offside 4 44% 5 56%

Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sami Hyypia, Fabio Aurelio, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard (Robbie Keane, 90), Lucas Leiva, Xabi Alonso, Jermaine Pennant (Yossi Benayoun, 63), Ryan Babel (Albert Riera, 71), Dirk Kuyt

Portsmouth David James, Younes Kaboul, Noe Pamarot, Armand Traore, A (Niko Kranjcar, 65), Sylvain Distin, Nadir Belhadj, Lassana Diarra (Richard Hughes, 80), Papa Bouba Diop, John Utaka (Jermain Defoe, 85), Sean Davis, Peter Crouch

Referee Tanner, S
Venue Anfield
Attendance 43,378

Copyright - The Guardian

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