Liverpool 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0: Renaissance of Kewell shows Benitez at his resourceful best

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The Independent Football

When the achievements of Rafa Benitez are logged for the history books, here is one around the top of the list: Steve Finnan, a right-back currently operating with more adventure than any of his predecessors since the fabled Chris Lawler, sends across a raking centre. There, at the end of it, is the masterfully cool figure of Harry Kewell, volleying so sweetly home it is nearly impossible to believe it is his first goal in 13 months.

This honeyed strike did more than break the claim of Spurs that they are ready to claim a place among the élite of the English game. It showed off the best of Benitez's work, a striving to usefully employ all his resources, to blend into a superb work rate and technical excellence elements of genuine flair.

In that last area the reclamation of Kewell surely comes straight from the top draw of managerial faith and touch. For so long Kewell had been more than a busted flush. He had been a bad joke at the expense of football's ability to draw anything like value for money. Old pros, part of the great legend of Anfield, have, to be perfectly frank, used his name as a swear sword: something denoting a chronic failure to make the best of outstanding gifts.

That charge had to be withdrawn after this game, however. Not only did Kewell provide the decisive shot so beautifully, he also gave Liverpool vital width, skill and pace along the left. Not for Benitez any airy demands from Kewell that he be given a free role, a luxury that dissipated so grievously the player's at first luminous presence at Leeds - and made his signing by Liverpool so quickly seem such a terrible waste of £5m.

For Benitez's Liverpool Kewell is obliged to do what he does best - operate as a natural left-sided player of great natural ability. His effect against the prodigiously committed Spurs was huge - as was the tribute paid by the conscience of the team, Jamie Carragher.

Carragher's praise of Kewell, and rejection of the belief that the Australian's departure in the hard, early going of the Champions' League final against Milan last spring had ended his usefulness to Liverpool, was so heartfelt that he might have been midway through one of his patented last-ditch clearances.

Said Carragher: "Fortunately 'H' scored a fantastic goal, but it was still an even, tough game and I'm just delighted we came out on top. Harry really turned it on, but it's not just in this game that we've seen that. I'd say he's been our best player over the past four to six weeks. He has won man of the match on a regular basis and rightly so. He just needed a goal to round things off, after not scoring for a while, and he could hardly have come up with a better one. It was the only thing that was missing because he has been creating so much for the strikers.

"I was really pleased when he hit the back of the net because he has been coming in for so much stick, a lot of it undeserved. He really should not have been criticised for what happened in Istanbul. No player comes off in a Champions' League final unless he really has to and it wasn't his fault that he snapped a groin. The stick he got over that was well out of order. It's like having a new signing in the team, the way he's playing now."

Carragher also had some fond words for his former team-mate Robbie Fowler after his clinching goal for Manchester City against next weekend's opponents Manchester United, the last obstacle to Liverpool's march to the status of England's second-ranked team and most likely challengers, perhaps next season, to Chelsea's crown. Carragher added: "Robbie certainly did us a favour today. It's a massive game for us next week. We are both doing our best to keep in touch with Chelsea and Fergie said they want to be closest to them. That's our aim as well. I also believe we can look forward to the day when we win the title."

That ambition was not so fanciful when you analysed a performance that could have left Liverpool at least two goals in front at the break. Neither Steven Gerrard nor Xabi Alonso were on top of their form - which said a lot for the resolution of Spurs - but as a unit Liverpool worked relentlessly. It is true that Robbie Keane, whose reliability in front of goal has earned him a prolonged nod over England candidate Jermain Defoe, unaccountably failed to score early in the second half, but Spurs always struggled to cope with Liverpool's mixture of high-tempo running and general strength. Kewell's strike simply underlined a difference in class.

No doubt Martin Jol has stiffened up Spurs, and he was surely pleased with the hard work of superior performers such as the veteran Edgar Davids and Michael Carrick before the cause was shattered by the dismissal of last-man tackler Paul Stalteri with three minutes to go. The bottom line, though, was that Spurs came up just a little short in a significant test of their progress into the top echelon. Fourth place might this season be just a stride too far, especially with the revived productivity of Arsenal.

For Liverpool the imperative is straightforward enough. They have clearly established a pattern of progress and, as Benitez never wearies of saying, it is simply a matter of developing good habits. Anyone at Anfield who doubts this needs only to look at Harry Kewell. He is a former dead man now running - and at vital times quite exquisitely.

Goals: Kewell (59) 1-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko (Kromkamp, 90), Kewell; Morientes (Warnock, 83), Crouch (Cisse, 66). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Sinama Pongolle.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Stalteri, Dawson, King, Lee; Jenas, Carrick, Tainio (Defoe, 67), Davids (Lennon,78); Mido, Keane. Substitutes not used : Cerny (gk), Gardner, Brown.

Referee: M Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

Booked : Tottenham Tainio.

Sent off: Stalteri.

Man of the match: Finnan.

Attendance: 44,983.

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