Sunday, November 29, 2009

Liverpool triumph relieves pressure on Benitez

LIVERPOOL (AFP) - Liverpool bounced back from their premature Champions League exit to beat neighbours Everton 2-0 on Sunday, a result which relieved some of the pressure that has been building on manager Rafa Benitez.

Javier Mascherano's long range 12th minute effort, which took a heavy deflection off defender Joseph Yobo, set Liverpool on their way before Dirk Kuyt sealed victory 11 minutes from time.

It was enough to put a smile back on the face of Benitez, who has come under pressure since the five-times European champions were eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League in midweek.

The win lifted Liverpool into the top five while problems continue to mount for Everton, who were the better side for long periods.

Having won just once in 11 games, David Moyes's strugglers are three points above the relegation zone.

Benitez had demanded an aggressive, high-tempo start from his players and he got one as his side took control inside the opening quarter-of-an-hour - thanks to a huge slice of fortune.

Liverpool have found themselves out of luck on the injury front this term while they were undone at Sunderland last month by a beachball, Darren Bent's effort deceiving keeper Jose Reina after hitting an inflatable object as Benitez's side lost 1-0 on Wearside.

But this time Liverpool profited from a stroke of good fortune in the 12th minute as Mascherano, one goal in his previous 71 Premier League outings for the club, attempted to find the target from 25-yards.

The south American is not renowned for his accuracy from distance and his shot was drifting well wide before taking a heavy deflection off Yobo and finding the net with Tim Howard rooted to his line.

Mascherano celebrated as though he had scored the winning goal for Argentina in the World Cup final yet the Premier League's dubious goals panel is almost certain to award to as an own goal.

It was just the start Everton, their confidence fragile following a run of one win in 10 outings, did not want.

History was against Moyes, who had tasted success just twice over Benitez on the Premier League stage in five years.

Yet despite missing key players Phil Jagielka, Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta due to long-term injuries, and Louis Saha, scorer of 10 goals this season, unable to start because he is not fully fit, Everton refused to feel sorry for themselves.

They went on to carve out a string of chances without managing to hurt Liverpool before half time.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, playing in his first Merseyside derby, spurned the best chance, the Russian screwing a shot horribly wide from the edge of the six-yard area after the Liverpool defence fell asleep.

Jo, spearheading the attack on his own in place of Saha, twice had the ball in the back of the net but both efforts were ruled out for offside.

Liverpool, again missing the razor sharp reactions of Fernando Torres in attack, seemed content to soak up spells of Everton pressure in an error-strewn match which summed up why both teams are not firing on all cylinders.

Yet it required a superbly saved by Howard to ensure Liverpool did not double their lead in the closing moments of the half.

Johnson was once again as impressive going forward as he was in defence, and it was the England full-back's pinpoint cross into the area which allowed Emiliano Insua to power a header towards goal which Howard did well to claw away.

The second half saw Everton continue to press, the impressive Steven Pienaar coming close to embarrassing Jose Reina with a long range effort which the Liverpool keeper failed to hold in the driving rain.

But Reina quickly redeemed himself with a double save to deny Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini 20 minutes from time.

Having kept out Cahill's close range header, the Spanish international quickly picked himself up to block Fellaini's effort from point-blank range.

But Liverpool sealed victory in the 79th minute through Kuyt, the Holland international scoring from close range after Howard had pushed an effort by substitute Albert Riera into his path.

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