Benitez refuses to apologise for Derby wobble

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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez emerged from the prospect of a potentially-embarrassing 1-1 draw at Derby County on Boxing Day to see Liverpool's title ambitions improve. And the Liverpool manager is unembarrassed by the good fortune that saw captain Steven Gerrard claim a winner in the last few seconds to secure a victory at Pride Park that had not looked like coming.

"I cannot be disappointed with another three points, I am really pleased," Benitez said. "People forget in football the days when you play really well and get nothing. We were the best team in the first half, we were the best team at the end. In three months time nobody will remember, nobody will talk of how we got those points, they will just see the result.

"We have been unfortunate against Chelsea at home, and Arsenal, and did not win. These points are won now and we are a little bit closer.

"When people ask if we have a realistic chance of the title they are really trying to tell me something. Let's wait and see. We have Manchester City next and that is very important for us. We have two more games over the holiday period. The most important thing for me is that we stay close. The question for me is to be as close as possible and we still have one game in hand. You never know what can happen."

Benitez must now cope with the likely loss of defender Sami Hyypia for a spell with a twisted ankle, the one position he does not have sufficient cover for.

"The second half was not the best for us but for me the key was winning three points," he added. "We lost Sami Hyypia and had players returning from injury who were not 100 per cent fit, those are some of the reasons for what happened in the second period. But we put ourselves under pressure by giving the ball away too often."

Benitez now has to drill into his team the need to find a killer instinct to avoid such embarrassments as Derby almost achieved and the midfielder Xabi Alonso believes he and his team-mates must learn from their narrow escape.

Alonso, who made his first League start for two months, said: "We should have scored and killed the game. We should have kept the ball better and not let them have so many chances. We were in control in the first half, then we had a few injured players and we were struggling and we were not in control of the situation. We have to learn and not repeat what happened at Derby again."