by Anthony Jones at Talklfc
Before the international break Liverpool were hinting at finding a level of consistency that has avoided them for some time. Having put together back to back league victories, the chance presented itself for the side to put together their first three game winning streak in nearly twelve months. With the victory over Anderlecht also in that period optimism is returning to the Anfield faithful and a game against struggling Portsmouth was probably the ideal fixture to be faced with after the international games.
Whilst results have been consistent, Benitez has tended to stick with the same side. Yet for this fixture Liverpool were significantly changed with Warnock and the improving Zenden both starting on the left, with Riise out injured. Gerrard returned to central midfield with Hamann partnering him, Alonso was left on the bench whilst Sissoko did not feature. Garcia moved to the right flank with the pace of Cisse being allied to the hold up play of Peter Crouch.
Liverpool started as they meant to go on by dominating their opponents. A Crouch knock down, was worked to Warnock who looped the ball into the box which was cleared to Hamann who's volley was deflected for a corner. Gerrard swung the corner in and Crouch attacked the ball and put a powerful header goalwards which Ashdown did well to parry clear. Moments later Garcia clipped the ball into the box and with Crouch catching the attention of the defenders Cisse looked set to receive it until O'Brien recovered. It was Garcia's last real action of the match as he pulled up shortly after with a side strain. However the ball refused to go out and Liverpool continued to press, though they were nearly caught out when a long ball towards Lua Lua came close to putting the striker in but Carragher read the play and cleared for a corner.
Liverpool were dominating the game, even whilst down to ten men as Garcia received treatment. A cross from Finnan found Cisse unmarked on the edge of the eighteen yard box, but it was a difficult header to get any power behind. Garcia returned to the field though, clearly lame with Benitez strangely reluctant to make the change. Peter Crouch was looking lively and it was his flick that fell to Bolo Zenden which resulted in the first key moment of the game. The wideman controlled the ball, dummied the cross and ran into the box only to be blocked by O'Brien. The referee had no doubt in giving a penalty and the Kop were certain who they wanted to take it. Peter Crouch stepped up and hit a confident strike to the keeper's right. However much to his, and the supporters disappointment, Ashdown had dived full stretch in that direction and parried the ball out. Pompey's relief was short lived though as Zenden headed home the rebound. It was a cruel moment for Peter Crouch who had made a good contribution to the side's excellent start to the game. With the lead, Liverpool continued to press and Crouch showed his agility by controlling the ball on his chest on the edge of the eighteen yard box and then launching an overhead kick which he just failed to get proper purchase on. Liverpool finally made the change and replaced Garcia with Morientes with Cisse dropping to the right flank.
At the other end Portsmouth claimed for a penalty which the official waved away. Laurent Robert was lucky to avoid a caution after barging into the official in protest to the decision. It was Liverpool though who were looking most likely and a fluent move from the back worked it's way to Cisse on the right. His chipped cross allowed Morientes to challenge and he accepted the offer though under pressure he couldn't direct it away from the keeper. Djibril Cisse was causing problems to Portsmouth on the right and it was no surprise the second goal came from his flank. After running past Vignal playing left back for Portsmouth, he looked to chip a cross to the far post but not connecting properly, he instead watched the ball drift over Ashdown and into the back of the net. Cisse's own response made it clear that the last thing he intended was to chip the keeper.
Liverpool started the second half as they ended the first by controlling the play. A Morientes flick on nearly fell into the path of Crouch, though O'Brien saw to it that it didn't. Shortly after Finnan made a rare trip into the opposition box and his pull back was volleyed goalwards by Crouch only for his effort to be blocked. Morientes then squirmed a shot across the goal that deceived the big striker. Crouch was involved in everything now and a sumptuous flick from Morientes put him clean through and his drilled shot was too close to Ashdown who stood up well to block. Minutes later a cross from Morientes was just too close to Ashdown as Crouch moved into the box.
In a rare Portsmouth attack Steven Gerrard demonstrated what a strong tackler he is. The ball had been cleverly worked form left to right to Viafara. Gerrard filling in for Warnock launched into a strong tackle that won the ball and was onto his feet before his opponent. Set to claim the ball Viafara hauled him back and received a deserved booking. It was then back to the Peter Crouch show as the ball was played up to the striker who flicked it over his defender but his lob drifted over the crossbar. Liverpool were then left to complain to the ref as O'Brien cut through Crouch with a challenge which the referee allowed and Robert struck a shot from distance that Reina waved past his post.
With Liverpool in control the only threat seemed to be their own complacency. Slowing the game down, Liverpool passed the ball with some confidence around the field until Gerrard gave the ball away with a sloppy flick. Portsmouth attacked through the centre with Lua Lua who fed Taylor on the left who's shot was blocked for a corner. From the resuling set piece Priske found himself unmarked and his downward header was straight at Reina who pushed the ball away and Finnan completed the clearance. It was a timely reminder. Liverpool responded by withdrawing Cisse and bringing on Alonso.
Credit should be given to the Pompey fans who remained in good voice despite their side being outclassed. During a rare spell of possession late in the game the fans greeted every successful pass with an 'ole'. However, as if in response to those chants, Liverpool responded in emphatic style. Portsmouth had enjoyed their best period of the game but when a second corner was cleared, Liverpool countered quickly with Gerrard eventually winning a corner. After the ball had been delivered into the box and cleared a couple of times, Finnan whipped in a far post cross that Crouch headed down to Morientes. The Spaniard turned, and hammered the ball home to continue his recent return to form. Moments later Morientes nearly turned provider as he played a delightful through ball for the run of Gerrard though the skipper's flicked shot drifted wide of the post. It was Gerrard's last action as he received a standing ovation from the Kop as Benitez used his final substitution, bringing on Josemi with time running out.
The final whistle sealed Liverpool's victory and ensured the side goes into the crucial Champions League game against Betis full of confidence. After a stuttering start to the season, Liverpool are suddenly looking the side the fans hoped they would see after last season's Champions League success. Key to that is the improving form of a number of players including Fernando Morientes and Bolo Zenden. The only disappointment on the day was that Peter Crouch's first goal once more failed to materialise, though if he can continue to play as he did today it will quickly arrive. The big striker had an excellent game and was involved in most of Liverpool's best play. Liverpool have now kept fourteen clean sheets this season whilst in their last four games they claimed ten goals and collected the three points on each occasion.