Match Report by Robbie Amins for talklfc
After the 5-0 drubbing of West Brom on Sunday, Rafa Benitez decided to again freshen things up against Southampton. This time, out went Djimi Traore, Didi Hamann, Antonio Nunez and Milan Baros who had suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury. It was not their best performance of the season but the Redmen knew that what mattered most were the three points and Florent Sinama Pongolle's goal ensured that Liverpool got maximum points from this fixture.
Harry Redknapp also made a few changes from the side that drew goalless at home to Charlton on Sunday. With just Dexter Blackstock up front, Southampton gifted Liverpool acres of space, but the home side probably left all the crisp passing and movement that destroyed the opposition on Boxing Day at the Hawthorns. And Luis Garcia was doing a fine job of giving away the ball unnecessarily.
John Arne Riise who had a Man of the Match performance against the Baggies got the first effort at goal. Xabi Alonso picked him out with an early but accurate crossfield ball but the Norwegian's effort after cutting inside was saved by Antti Niemi. It was with his right foot and everybody knows that it's his weaker side.
More injury worries then for Benitez. He had to make an early change. Steve Finnan had to come off with a leg injury after a late challenge by Neil McCann. Salif Diao replaced the Irish international and had to play in the unfamiliar position of right fullback.
The Reds were not looking very impressive but at times, they did look like they were certainly going to score. And one of those moments was just before half-time. And it came from the boot of Alonso, whose creative talents in midfield have so complemented the dynamism of Steven Gerrard. Seizing possession from Dexter Blackstock in centre-field, Alonso judged Sinama-Pongolle's forward movement to perfection, bisecting the Southampton defence with a pass so well timed that the young Frenchman easily swept the ball to the far corner of the goal.
Even though they had more possession of the ball, Liverpool didn't improve in the second half. In fact, they looked more nervous and edgy. Southampton were causing problems on the break and Jerzy Dudek decided to make a mess of a long throw from Rory Delap. Stephen Warnock who was doing well at left back, had to clear the ball off the line.
Flo Po then should have increased the lead when he shot over after excellent work by Steven Gerrard down the left flank. The Frenchman's left-foot effort went well over the bar. His strike partner Neil Mellor who had worked hard but was getting no dividends then forced a good save from Niemi with an effort from just outside the box.
Riise then almost scored another Goal of the Week contender with his strong left foot. Liverpool skipper Stevie G who was leading by example, played an exquisite drilled pass towards the Norwegian who chested the ball down before unleashing a cracker. But his effort hit the crossbar. He was then denied a clearcut penalty after Niemi had brought him down in the box.
The final whistle went and even though the home fans knew their team could have done much better, Liverpool still got the win to set them up nicely for the big one against Chelsea this Saturday.
Man of the Match: Steven Gerrard
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez: "It was hard work. We controlled the game in the first half but in the second half it is difficult. In the end it was important to win three games in a row. We had some chances at the end of the game and the goalkeeper made some good saves, perhaps we need more confidence when we are up 1-0 ahead."
"The best thing to take from this game is the three points. It's difficult to play two games in two days but if you win you know you can play better the next game. We have now won three Premiership games in a row and we want to make that four and our confidence will be better. I thought in the second half we were nervous and were thinking about what happened in the Portsmouth game."
"We scored a good goal from Sinama-Pongolle after a good pass from Xabi Alonso and could have scored more than one. Riise had a great shot that hit the bar and Gerrard had a chance at the end. We didn't play at the level we know we can but it's an important three points for us. Losing Steve Finnan was a blow because right back is not the position for Salif Diao and it is difficult for him."
Southampton manager Harry Redknapp: "They showed fantastic commitment tonight, they kept going after giving a goal away right on half-time. We pressed and pressed and kept our hopes alive, I couldn't have asked for more and if they keep working like that we'll get out of trouble. If we work as hard as that week in, week out, we'll be okay."
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard: "Before the game three points was the all-important thing and that is what we achieved. Sometimes in this league it's not about playing well, it's about getting the points. The boys battled well today and we deserved it. Southampton were making it hard for us. They had a lot of men behind the ball but we knew the breaks would come if we kept passing the ball and matching them."
"We've won three on the spin now but we need more. That is what Liverpool Football Club is all about - winning games. Three is not enough and we want to win more. Our performances at home this season have been really good and I'd like to think Anfield is becoming a fortress once again. If we can take this form into our away games then things will be looking really good. It's important to build on results like the West Brom one. Today we've done that and we need to take this into the Chelsea game."