Benitez hails captain Carragher

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The Independent Online

Rafael Benitez hailed stand-in skipper Jamie Carragher and blasted claims the defender was past his best.

Benitez revealed he was determined to keep faith with his players and Carragher.

The 31-year-old has come in for severe criticism this season as Liverpool have struggled, but he produced a man-of-the-match display of defiant defending in yesterday's 2-0 home win over Manchester United.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson maintained Carragher should have been sent off for dragging down Michael Owen, but the Old Trafford chief also conceded Carragher was Liverpool's best defender, by far.

Benitez said: "Jamie played well. He had been having a difficult time but the only thing to do in such a situation is to try again and try again.

"It was only a question of keeping working hard, and he proved that he is a good centre-back and not at the end of his career just yet.

"He showed what a good defender he still is and (collectively) we have shown that we are not a bad team, not a bad squad. Maybe next April people will again judge us but at this moment we have enough quality.

"We have had five players injured, all at once. But when we are all fit we are difficult for anyone to beat.

On his own position, Benitez maintained: "I have not been reading the papers, or listening to anything. I was only trying to keep focused, and the players the same.

"We knew we were not that bad. We had won six on the trot before this run of four defeats, and we got 86 points last season. We are not as bad as people were saying."

Benitez kept faith with his squad, and continued: "The players responded to the messages they had been given. It was simple, keep training the same way, keep working hard and things will change.

"In football you can talk a lot but if you do not work hard you will not change anything.

"We worked hard on lots of things, but the main thing was that everyone was together, the team, the fans, the staff. The attitude was fantastic, and you can see that we can beat anyone.

"This was the perfect answer, the perfect response because we were not winning.

"Against a good team you have to perform really well and be focused to achieve what you want. All the players wanted to impress, that was the difference.

"It was a result that will please a lot of people, maybe not United. But I have been saying all season that the top sides will lose more points that you would expect, that will make the title race more open.

"This is the proof. I was determined to keep my confidence, to keep my faith in my players."

French striker David Ngog also had cause to be pleased with the way he coolly took his injury-time goal that ended any hope United had of saving a point.

Ngog had been criticised for missing an excellent opportunity that would have put Liverpool 2-0 ahead in the Champions League defeat by Lyon last week.

But the 20-year-old made no mistake yesterday and said: "It was a fantastic moment for me and the team and I would say it's my best moment in football.

"I have always dreamed of scoring a goal for Liverpool against Manchester United and now it has happened and it is a really good feeling.

"I dedicated the goal to my family who always support me, and to the fans because I know how much the victory meant to them.

"I also give thanks to my team-mates and the manager for always showing faith in me."

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