Rafael Benitez played Russian roulette in the Carling Cup at Anfield last night and almost shot himself in the foot. Liverpool edged out Reading after they appeared to be cantering into a fourth-round meeting with Birmingham City by going 3-0 up inside 50 minutes.
In the end, it was the Anfield faithful who were left screaming for the final whistle when an under-strength Reading side staged a remarkable fightback with three goals in 10 minutes.
Benitez, already under pressure after seeing the Reds slip 11 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United, tried his best to put a positive spin on this narrow victory.
He said: "We're not scoring many goals away from home but to score four fantastic goals here is good for the team and we saw some new young players playing at Anfield for the first time, but we were under a lot of pressure in the last minutes and I'm glad we didn't go into extra time."
The Spaniard made eight changes from the side beaten 2-0 at Old Trafford which brought the doom and gloom merchants bearing down once more. It was left to Robbie Fowler to bring some smiles back to everyone's faces at Anfield when he opened the scoring with a chip over the Reading goalkeeper Graham Stack on 44 minutes to move into second place in the club's all-time League Cup goalscoring records behind Kenny Dalglish.
John Arne Riise made it 2-0 within 60 seconds when he thumped the ball home from 16 yards after his first effort had been punched back to him by Stack.
The tie looked effectively over when Gabriel Paletta, one of two youngsters making Liverpool debuts - along with Lee Peltier - headed home Jermaine Pennant's 50th-minute corner in front of the Kop.
Fowler could have added two more goals before Andre Bikey forced home Glen Little's free-kick to give the visitors hope. That seemed impossible when Fowler played in Peter Crouch and the England man put the Merseysiders three goals ahead again with just 13 minutes remaining.
However, the Royals refused to lie down and Leroy Lita waltzed through the home defence to make it 4-2 with nine minutes left.
Benitez was now a man in a state of panic in the technical area, especially when he saw Shane Long head home Little's cross to set up a grand finale which saw Liverpool survive a mad goalmouth scramble.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Peltier (Smith, 73), Agger, Paletta, Warnock; Pennant, Sissoko (Guthrie, 62), Zenden, Riise (Kuyt, 79); Crouch, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Martin (gk), Carragher.
Reading (4-4-2): Stack; Halls, Ingamarsson, Gunnarsson (Sodje, 83), De La Cruz; Little, Oster, Bikey, Hunt; Lita, Long. Substitutes not used: Hahnemann (gk), Hayes, Osamo, Dubrois.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).Reuse content