Liverpool 4, Portsmouth 1: Torres torments Pompey

Liverpool midfield dominate Redknapp's men as away run shudders to a halt
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The Independent Football

So much for Portsmouth's vaunted away record and Liverpool's "shaky" home form. Both statistics were swept away on an afternoon in which Liverpool indulged a pre-Christmas frolic, with the predatory Fernando Torres leading the way and pushing his goal mark up to 14 for the season.

Forgotten were the woes of Wednesday at Chelsea; Steven Gerrard and the deadly Torres were restored to the line-up and from the start things went with an eye-catching swing.

That said, the margin of Liver-pool's victory could be laid at the door of what the Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp, called "poor defending", admitting: "We were all over the place at times."

He put part of it down to the fact that a frozen training pitch had interfered with his team's preparation. Perhaps, but the fashion in which Torres and Yossi Benayoun ran at, and past, defenders indicated that the pitch was not the only part of Pompey in deep freeze.

Being an honest bloke at heart, Redknapp also paid full tribute to Torres "a fantastic talent" and to the whole Liverpool set-up: "They can beat you on any given day, eight or nine times out of 10, we accept that."

That said, Portsmouth could certainly have done more to limit the damage. Sol Campbell, showing ominous signs of creakiness, and Sylvain Distin had been given the run-around the previous Saturday by Dimitar Berbatov, and Torres promptly repeated the punishment, moving fluently to either wing and exposing uncertainty not previously evident in Portsmouth's rearguard earlier in this successful season for them.

A pair of goals in the opening quarter of an hour just about put the game to bed. Liverpool should, and would, have scored inside 10 minutes but for a piece of bravery by Glen Johnson. Torres came surging in from the right and laid back the ball into the path of Dirk Kuyt for what looked a routine side-footed certainty. Somehow Johnson got a deflecting boot on the shot, but in doing so collided with his goalkeeper, David James, and though he resumed after lengthy treatment he was forced off at half-time with suspected knee damage.

Portsmouth enjoyed three minutes of reprieve. Then Torres, switching to the left, was blocked but managed to lay the ball off to Harry Kewell. The Australian's cut-back was precise and Benayoun hammered his sixth score of the season from the edge of the penalty area.

Another three minutes and a flustered Portsmouth conceded again, this time in bizarre fashion. Kuyt was the predator with a surge down the right and a transfer to Torres. In attempting to close down the Spaniard, Campbell drove the ball against the shins of Distin, from whence the rebound found the corner of the stranded James's net.

Needing to make urgent repairs for the second half, Redknapp abandoned his normal4-5-1 line-up to bring on a second striker, Kanu, while Lauren replaced Johnson. At once Kanu announced brighter intentions with a shot from distance, but it still came as a surprise when they scored in the 57th minute. A Kanu cross found Benjani shamefully unmarked beyond the far post, and Pompey's top scorer coolly dragged the ball round a lumbering block by Sami Hyypia to drive in his ninth of the season.

On came Ryan Babel for Benayoun, and after James had got away with spilling a Hyypia header from a free-kick, the Liverpool change of personnel worked spectacularly on the hour. Javier Mascherano unleashed a sumptuous pass inside Hermann Hreidarsson for Babel to run on to. Though the full-back managed to get a toe-end to the ball it only served to compound Portsmouth's problems, confusing Distin and James as they both went for the ball. It broke free ,and from near the penalty spot Torres was offered the sort of gift he does not spurn.

There was time for what Redknapp felt was another error from his defence when, five minutes from the end, a corner was only cleared as far as Jamie Carragher. The ball was lofted back into the penalty box and Gerrard neatly turned it inside for Torres to volley home with his left boot.