Charlton Athletic 2 Liverpool 0: Bent attack knocks Reds out of shape at the Valley

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The Independent Football

At that time they sat behind Chelsea. With Liverpool condemned to their first back-to-back league defeats for almost a year the visitors squandered one of the games they had in hand to try to claim that spot themselves ahead of Manchester United and ended any chance, if any existed, that they could still challenge for the title.

The result was hard on Liverpool even though Bent also struck the crossbar, while Marcus Bent hit the post, and Rafael Benitez did not try to conceal his bewilderment. He said his team needed to improve ahead of their vital games, in the FA Cup and Champions' League, to come. But it is four matches without a win for them, three without scoring and just 30 goals in 24 Premiership contests.

"It was not a penalty, it was clear," the Liverpool manager said of the minimal contact that goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek - in for the suspended Jose Reina - inflicted on Darren Bent as both attempted to reach Radostin Kishishev's chip forward before half-time. Dudek's captain. Jamie Carragher. was incensed and had to be pulled away from the referee Andre Marriner at both half and full-time.

But Benitez said it was immaterial and did not want to dwell on the incident. "I cannot explain [how] after 40 minutes of one-way traffic we can lose a game like this in five minutes," Benitez said. For Charlton scored again before the break, captain Luke Young driving in his first goal of the season from a tight angle after Carragher had blocked Alexei Smertin's cross under more pressure from the vibrant Darren Bent who, on this form, is worthy of the World Cup squad. "It is unbelievable," Benitez said. "Crazy. If we want to win trophies we have to control that situation."

Charlton's Alan Curbishley agreed. Indeed, he feared his side - shell shocked from the weekend defeat at Tottenham Hotspur after which he had "said a lot of things" - would be blown away by Liverpool's intent. He described Xabi Alonso as "immense", admitted the penalty was probably incorrect but then rightly praised his players for "defending with their lives". "But then the way Liverpool started they had to," he said.

Liverpool compensated for the loss of the injured Steven Gerrard by starting with two strikers and with Djibril Cissé and Harry Kewell darting in from the wings. It appeared a potent mix, although Peter Crouch fluffed one clear opportunity, and Fernando Morientes was equally wasteful with a Steve Finnan cross.

There then came the chaotic end to the half, which Curbishley said helped to "galvanise the team and the crowd". Liverpool continued to push, but the Charlton defence was increasingly resilient with Kishishev and Jonathan Spector, in particular, impressing.

Indeed, it was Charlton who came closest to scoring. Marcus Bent released Darren Bent down the right and he eventually crossed only for the ball narrowly to evade the head of his strike partner at the far post. Moments later Darren Bent latched onto another through-ball and from the same area of the pitch rattled the bar with a spectacular first-time shot. Astonishingly, Charlton then hit the woodwork again as Darren Bent's cross was met by Marcus Bent whose side-footed effort struck the base of the post.

Reprieved, Liverpool attacked and Thomas Myhre parried alertly from Morientes' fierce drive. But, despite all their attacking intent, they simply could not score.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2) Myhre; Young, Hreidarsson, Perry, Spector; Kishishev, Hughes, Smertin (El Karkouri, 83), Thomas (Ambrose, 79); M Bent, D Bent. Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Euell, Bothroyd.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Finnan, Hyypia (Riise, 71), Carragher, Traoré; Cissé (Kromkamp, 78), Alonso, Sissoko, Kewell; Crouch (Fowler, 60), Morientes. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Hamann.

Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).

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