Darby aims to shine for Reds while Johnson is out

Defender hoping to show Benitez he can cope after nightmare against Fiorentina
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The Independent Football

Liverpool defender Stephen Darby is hoping for an extended run in the first team in the absence of injured full-back Glen Johnson. Johnson has been ruled out for at least a month with a tear of the medial ligament in his right knee, sustained in last week's 1-0 victory at Aston Villa.

Darby stepped in on the right side of defence for Saturday's 1-1 draw at Reading in the third round of the FA Cup for only his second first-team start and the 21-year-old is hopeful of retaining his place.

Competition is likely to come from Jamie Carragher, who manager Rafael Benitez could switch from centre-back, but with concerns continuing over Daniel Agger's fitness, he may be reluctant to do so, or the manager could turn to Philipp Degen, who has failed to impress on his few outings. It all points to Darby, who has yet to make his Premier League debut, being given the opportunity to impress.

"Hopefully there will be a couple more chances in the next couple of weeks," said the Liverpool-born academy graduate. "You've got to be level-headed and realise the hard work is only just beginning.

"It was important to get another game. Now it's just a question of continuing to work hard and hopefully showing enough to impress the coaching staff. There are a number of possibilities for the manager and he can change things around; the competition for places is massive but all I can do is keep working hard.

"It was just a big confidence boost to start [against Reading] and shows that the manager has faith in me. Now I have got to try and repay it."

Darby endured a tough full debut last month when his error allowed Alberto Gilardino to score a last-minute winner for Fiorentina in Liverpool's final Champions League group match in a highly disappointing European campaign.

However, he believes with the full support of his team-mates he can put that behind him and go on improving. "It's something I've got to learn from and I couldn't dwell on it too much," said Darby.

"I tried to put it behind me quickly and use the experience to make me a better player. It really hurt for a couple of days after but the lads got behind me and gave me great advice and encouragement."

Carragher was one of the first to congratulate Darby on his performance against Reading.

"It was a very difficult game to play in but he showed great character to come back from it [the Fiorentina match]," said the Liverpool vice-captain.

"It would have been easy [not to select him] after what happened against Fiorentina but it was great for him and you also have to give credit to the manager for picking him.

"He was superb against Reading, which shows that he's not only just a good player, but also has very strong character." Despite being short of an experienced right-back Benitez is looking at bolstering other positions in the transfer window and is believed to be lining up Atletico Madrid midfielder Maxi Rodriguez.

The Argentina international, 29, has six months remaining on his contract at the cash-strapped Spanish side and yesterday indicated a willingness to take a pay cut in order to secure the right move.

Benitez is expected to have to offload players before he can reinforce his squad but the future of left-back Andrea Dossena remains unclear.

The Italian is nothing more than a fringe player just over a season after his £7m transfer from Udinese and is attracting interest from clubs in his homeland. However, any move currently seems a long way off.

"At the moment everything is blocked. It all depends on Liverpool who, until now, seem to have no intention of altering their strategy," Dossena's agent Roberto La Florio told calciomercato.it. At the moment I don't think Liverpool would consider [a loan] option."