Keane strikes lift Benitez off hook

Liverpool 3 West Bromwich 0
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The Independent Football

Considering Rafael Benitez bought the best in the world, he has a mixed record when it comes to strikers. In fact, take away Fernando Torres and some Liverpool supporters would opt for something a lot more derogatory.

The Liverpool manager could never bring himself to fully embrace the unique possibilities of Peter Crouch, while Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel are likely to play on the flank and Fernando Morientes, Robbie Fowler, Andriy Voronin and Craig Bellamy have come and gone having made – give or take the odd golf club – a subdued impact. So Robbie Keane was not alone in being relieved after this match.

Benitez has spent much of the autumn justifying the £20m he spent on Keane in the summer, a task that would have been unnecessary if the former Tottenham Hotspur striker was putting the ball in the net.

He makes chances, he works hard for the team, was the gist of the Spaniard's argument, but the unspoken message was: "Just score, Robbie, will you? Just score."

Well, he did in this match, getting his first and second league goals of the season, which brought as much comfort to Anfield's backroom staff, you suspect, as it did the player. "We were talking about Peter Crouch before," Benitez said, "and once he scored one goal he got a lot. Hopefully it will be the same with Robbie. We told him he is not under pressure, 'Keep calm, you are playing well', but in the end strikers always want to score goals. This afternoon was very, very important for him."

Part of Keane's (make that every striker's) problem is that he is not Torres. Liverpool have become so used to the Spaniard's searing pace their first instinct is to look for the ball beyond the opposition back four. Which is fine unless you are Keane and looking to operate a little deeper.

While being in the wrong place at the right time might suit Dr Who, it quickly erodes a striker's confidence. You could see that with Keane on Saturday, who was too hasty with his first chance, shooting straight at Scott Carson in the 13th minute where an Ian Rush would have calmly located the corner.

Yet once he put Liverpool ahead with a dink over the West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper 21 minutes later, self-belief pumped through Keane's veins and his second goal was a beautiful example of a front man keeping his cool as he rounded Carson and scored from a narrow angle.

He was still substituted, for the 13th time this season, but his manager admitted it had been a reluctant decision. "I told him: 'I know I keep changing you but it's because we need another kind of player later in the game'," Benitez said. "I didn't want to substitute him today – after his two goals I was expecting the hat-trick – but winning the game was the most important thing. I brought on Torres because they were playing very high and I wanted to use his pace against them."

Frankly he could have led the line with worthy but pedestrian centre-back Sami Hyypia by then, because once Keane had scored Albion never looked likely to win at Anfield for the first time in 41 years. They attack with ample flair without creating much, as a total of two goals on their travels in the League testifies, and their defence looks relegation weak.

"If we survive this season we'll come back stronger," their manager Tony Mowbray said afterwards. Sadly for most neutrals who applaud Albion's commitment to a more edifying style of football, that "if" is getting larger by the match.

Goals: Keane (34) 1-0; Keane (43) 2-0; Arbeloa (90) 3-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio; Benayoun, Gerrard (Alonso, 80) , Mascherano, Riera (Babel, 65); Kuyt, Keane (Torres, 72). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Hyypia, Insua, El Zhar.

West Bromwich Albion (4-1-3-2): Carson; Zuiverloon, Donk, Olsson, Robinson; Greening; Koren, Valero, Kim (Teixeira, 56); Bednar (Moore, 56), Miller (Brunt 71). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Hoefkens, Dorrans, Pele.

Referee: P Walton (Northants).

Booked: Liverpool Arbeloa, Mascherano; West Bromwich Albion Olsson.

Man of the match: Keane.

Attendance: 43,451.