The tale of Peter Crouch and his inability to score is reaching saga proportions. The £7 million Liverpool striker failed to find the net for the 19th successive match for club and country yesterday and even his ever-optimistic manager, Rafael Benitez, must be wondering when his striker is going to get a goal.
The fear is that the dimensions of the problem are beginning to match Crouch's 6ft 7in frame. He squandered several opportunities yesterday, but the one that will be the hardest to take was his missed penalty after 23 minutes. He shot low but without conviction, Jamie Ashdown saved, and it was fortunate for Liverpool that Bolo Zenden headed in the rebound.
Djibril Cissé and Fernando Morientes also scored to put Liverpool in good heart for Wednesday's Champions' League game against Real Betis. Crouch, meanwhile, looks further away than ever from ending his drought. "It's a pity because he is playing very well," Benitez said. "He's good in the air and on the ground but he needs to score to gain confidence." Would he take another penalty? "It is up to the players," he replied. "If he feels confident, sure." Crouch, who has now gone more than a thousand minutes without finding the net, never looked fully confident in front of goal yesterday. His match was summed up by chances in the 12th and 56th minutes, which were the sort of opportunities that a struggling striker would normally dream off.
The first, a free header from six yards, was hit too close to Ashdown; the second, a run on goal manufactured by Morientes' delightful flick was hit straight at the Pompey goalkeeper. Add a hopelessly high chip in the closing stages and it was not a day for him to recall fondly.
Thankfully for him, Zenden spared his blushes with the penalty after the Dutch winger was needlessly pushed to the ground in the area by Andy Griffin. Portsmouth strongly contested the award, and were aggrieved when a penalty claim of their own was rejected after Jamie Carragher impeded John Viafara. If they felt the world was turning against them, it was probably confirmed when Cissé attempted a cross from the right after 39 minutes and the ball curled into the net at the far post.
The second half was largely a formality that was threatened only when Brian Priske bundled a corner goalwards and was denied by the combined efforts of Jose Reina and Steve Finnan. That scare over, Morientes put the game beyond doubt when he hooked in Sami Hyypia's pass with 10 minutes to go.
The result leaves the Portsmouth manager, Alain Perrin, who was given a pre-match warning from his chairman Milan Mandaric, in an even more perilous position. Pompey have not won at Fratton Park in the Premiership this season and Perrin's fate could be sealed if his side lose the next three.
"I have no feelings about my position," Perrin said. "I'm just concerned about the way we play. It's my problem to get points." Mandaric would not be drawn on the subject last night - "I'm going home to open a bottle of Chardonnay," the chairman said - but unfortunately for Perrin, Portsmouth's next fixture is against the irresistible force that is otherwise known as Chelsea. Then come away games against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.Reuse content