Fans hit the road to show American owners Benitez is the way forward

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The Independent Football

Liverpool fans marched in support of manager Rafael Benitez ahead of last night's Champions League encounter with Porto at Anfield, but anticipated numbers of 5,000 failed to materialise with a figure of around 2,000 banner-waving supporters voicing their backing to the under-pressure Benitez.

Benitez's position at Anfield has been undermined in recent days with Liverpool's American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, publicly rebuking the Spaniard and urging him to "quit talking" and concentrate on on-field matters ahead of a meeting to discuss transfer policy next month.

Having delivered the club's fifth European Cup in 2005 and guided Liverpool to last season's final against Milan in Athens, Benitez has solid support amongst the club's supporters, who remain wary of Hicks and Gillett, who completed their takeover at Anfield last February.

A pre-planned demonstration march from the Sandon Pub to the ground attracted large numbers of supporters, who chanted the manager's name throughout. But the marshalling of the police resulted in the marchers walking a 100-yard loop of the Sandon rather than heading to their planned destination.

Banners proclaiming "En Rafa Confiamos" (In Rafa We Trust), "No Pasaran" (They Shall Not Pass) and "Rafa: God's Gift to Liverpool" were waved by marchers, but there was a noticeable absence of chants against Hicks and Gillett in what was a good-natured show of support for Benitez rather than a protest against the American owners.

"This is a brilliant sign of what Rafa means to us and what a special club this is," said Michael Myles, who travelled from Belfast for the match. "Liverpool is ready to challenge for the title and Rafa will be able to deliver it. He has been honest, standing up to the owners, showing he just won't take orders sitting down and letting us know what is going on."

During the game, which Liverpool had to win to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the Champions League, fans chanted Benitez's name throughout in a further show of support. Neither Hicks nor Gillett made the journey from the USA to watch the game.