Liverpool 3 Portsmouth 0: Perrin's pain eclipses Crouch's woes

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The Independent Football

Denial spread across Anfield after this match. Among Liverpool supporters there was a refusal to accept the truth about Peter Crouch; in the Portsmouth hierarchy there was a wall being built about the future of manager Alain Perrin.

On the phone-ins, fans were queuing to support Crouch, a £7m striker who has not scored for 19 matches for club and country. He was brilliant/unlucky/tireless, depending on who was calling, but no one considered why they had to deliver these testimonials.

If Crouch was delivering goals along with hard labour there would be no need to rally behind him. Nor would Anfield applaud his slightest successes. But they have to because the evidence of their eyes tells them that this is a striker stripped of confidence. He does work, his skills do surprise and his 6ft 7in presence provides a diversion - but he is also suffering.

"The other players support him, he's a good boy and a nice team-mate," Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, said. "I see him training every day and I know he can score goals."

But can he? Crouch had three chances and blew them because he is snatching at them. His penalty - put in on the rebound by Bolo Zenden - lacked conviction, but more telling were the header and shot when he was clear through in the 12th and 55th minutes. Both were hurried, too close to Jamie Ashdown and were hit-and-hope efforts. It is hard to justify his place in the side when Fernando Morientes, who got Liverpool's third goal, is returning to form.

If cold underachievement was running through Crouch as he went through the formalities at the end of the match, however, it was nothing to the torment of Portsmouth's manager. Perrin looked a lonely figure on the touchline, a sight that is unlikely to be with English football for much longer.

In the stands his chairman, Milan Mandaric, was accusing reporters of being "unfair" for asking him about Perrin's future in the aftermath of a defeat, which was rich after the pressure he himself had piled on, insisting that Portsmouth win one of four matches that began with Liverpool away.

"These aren't the games that have hurt us," he said. "The problem is the games we should have won at home and didn't." Perrin would have to look hard to find endorsement in those words and he was equally unlikely to derive encouragement from supporters who chanted: " You don't know what you're doing."

But the most crushing thing was the attitude of his players, embodied by Laurent Robert. The Frenchman could posture for Europe, yet ask him to roll up his sleeves and maximise his undoubted talent and you are wasting your breath. He is just the worst example; you need forensic skills to find backbone in the Pompey dressing-room.

Four matches? With defeatism running through the team like a virus, a crushing defeat by Chelsea next Saturday will probably be enough to have Perrin clearing his desk.

Goals: Zenden (23) 1-0; Cissé (39) 2-0; Morientes (80) 3-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Luis Garcia (Morientes, 23), Gerrard (Josemi, 83), Hamann, Zenden; Cissé (Alonso, 70), Crouch. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Traore.

Portsmouth (4-1-4-1): Ashdown; Griffin, O'Brien, Priske, Vignal; Hughes (Skopelitis, 75); O'Neil, Viafara, Taylor, Robert (Vukic, 64); Lualua (Mbesuma, 70). Substitutes not used: Westerveld (gk), Primus.

Bookings: Liverpool: Hamann; Portsmouth: Viafara.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Man of the match: Gerrard.

Attendance: 44,394.

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