Benitez defends fight club
West Bromwich 0 Liverpool 2
Monday 18 May 2009
The facts, to use Rafael Benitez's favoured currency, were always stacked against West Bromwich Albion yesterday. They had lost the previous 11 tussles with Liverpool, failing even to score in all seven Premier League meetings, and a continuation of both sequences confirmed relegation from the top flight for the third time in seven seasons.
Goals either side of half-time, by Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt, disabused a raucously defiant Hawthorns crowd of dreams of another "Great Escape". But it was not one of Liverpool's more dignified days. After the match, Benitez sourly refused to congratulate Sir Alex Ferguson on Manchester United's title success, while Jamie Carragher and the Spaniard Alvaro Arbeloa earlier squared up to each other after a misunderstanding in their penalty area.
The Liverpool manager was offered two opportunities to state whether he would be sending a "well done" letter to Ferguson, yet declined them both. "I say congratulations to United because they have won it, and that's it," he said pointedly. "I prefer just to say, 'Well done' to the club. Normally you have to be respectful to the other manager, but during the season we have seen a lot of things I don't like."
Pressed on whether he regarded a 19th year without the championship as a failure, Benitez hailed Liverpool's haul of 83 points as "massive" – it is the club's best since the Premier League launched in 1992 – before returning to his apparent obsession with United and all their "£20m and £30m players". He added: "They have a strong, very big squad and won a lot of games 1-0. Next season could be different."
The altercation between Carragher and Arbeloa, which came 10 minutes from time, suggested morale within the Anfield camp is not all it might be. In scenes reminiscent of the altercation between Stoke colleagues Ricardo Fuller and Andy Griffin in December, Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger had to separate the pair as they jostled.
Benitez, showing the spin-doctoring skill of Westminster, claimed the incident showed "a positive message in terms of our mentality". It happened, he said, because of the players' desperation to keep a clean sheet and finish runners-up.
Albion, inspired by Jonathan Greening, opened with a conviction absent for most of the season, whereas Liverpool began flatly after seeing United match their total of 18 titles 24 hours earlier. The home side had last scored against Liverpool in 1986, yet had chances to amend that damning fact before Benitez's men got their bearings. In the fifth minute, Chris Brunt's corner found Greening unmarked beyond the far post.
His first shot was parried by Pepe Reina, who kept out the follow-up with his legs. Greening's deft touch, prominent throughout, is not shared by Shelton Martis, the Netherlands Antilles international bought for £50,000 from the manager, Tony Mowbray's, former club Hibernian. Martis's wretched control when under no pressure allowed Gerrard to steal the ball and advance before beating Dean Kiely for his 24th goal of the season.
The veteran keeper, preferred to Scott Carson, tipped a Fernando Torres header on to the bar as Liverpool grew in assurance, but was helpless when Kuyt took Gerrard's sublime angled pass, cut inside Jonas Olsson and put salvation firmly out of Albion's reach with an emphatic finish.
The impression that Albion are fated never to score against Liverpool again was underlined when Luke Moore's shot shook a post and Marc-Antoine Fortuné sent a free header over the bar. "You've won f*** all, and that's a fact," roared the home supporters. "You're going down, and that's a fact," came the riposte.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-1-1): Kiely; Zuiverloon, Martis (Valero, 57), Olsson, Donk; Brunt, Koren, Mulumbu (Moore, 68), Greening; Menseguez; Fortune. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Teixeira, Meite, Simpson, Wood.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Insua; Lucas, Mascherano (Alonso, 51); Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun (Ngog, 73); Torres (Babel, 69). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Dossena, Riera, Skrtel.
Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire).
Booked: West Bromwich Greening, Olsson.
Man of the match: Greening.
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