Portsmouth 0 Liverpool 0: Benitez quick to grumble as Reds stumble again

Portsmouth add to manager's away-day frustrations after international break
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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez suggested before this game that winning here would say far more about Liverpool's title prospects than some might think. The manager has complained about his side being given away fixtures after the international break and that this demanding schedule has hampered their chances of winning the Premier League. He was not changing his tune after this draw as his side survived a Portsmouth penalty and created few chances to deserve victory.

He mentioned he had 18 players away on international duty last week, hampering his options for this early kick-off. Offered a choice of the League or the Champions League this season, Benitez said: "I would take the Premiership, if I could choose."

But to do that, and win games such as these in such a long, demanding season, is something Benitez would rather do without using all his top players all of the time. Initially he rested Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres but, denied a goal from any other source, he brought on his marquee names. They too failed to find a way through as the Liverpool of a fortnight ago, with their six goals against Derby, were nowhere to be seen. This result also saw them displaced at the top of the table by Arsenal.

Yet long before the appearance of Gerrard and Torres, the match's key moment had taken place, namely the penalty, taken by Nwankwo Kanu after 30 minutes. Jose Reina dived to his right to push it away. "A crap penalty," complained Harry Redknapp, who was without his first-choice penalty-taker, Matt Taylor. "I think players should put their boot into it. I didn't fancy him when he was taking it."

With Torres on the bench and no sight of Dirk Kuyt, this was an opportunity for Peter Crouch in his first League start of the season. Unfortunately for him, his current status at Liverpool is mirrored with England. He was scarcely used by Steve McClaren in the last two Euro 2008 qualifiers and his under-employment has seen the rust set in.

There was early promise, however, when he picked out Yossi Benayoun after four minutes. The winger tried a low shot that David James saw late and saved by the foot of his near post.

Crouch, too, tried his luck against James, with whom he shared the substitutes' bench for England last week, but James saved and Crouch's replacement by Torres was all too inevitable. The Spanish striker instantly showed the danger he brings, when Glen Johnson tripped him on the edge of the area, although Benayoun's free-kick was high and wasteful.

Portsmouth under Redknapp have enjoyed their games against Liverpool and this could have been another profitable afternoon against the men from Merseyside. One Mwaruwari shot, with a deflection off Arbeloa, required all Reina's attention. The same could be said of Sean Davis' shot two minutes before the interval, which the Spaniard turned around the post.

With a fluidity that emerged only later on, opportunities began to switch and sway between both ends. Only a few seconds after the interval, Jermaine Pennant's cross found Crouch, whose flick arced over James but also the crossbar.

Soon after, Andriy Voronin wasted another opportunity as Liverpool constructed a move that would not have looked out of place at the World Cup – of rugby, that is – as they moved passes along Portsmouth's penalty area, only for the pony-tailed Ukrainian to spoon his effort wide.

The hosts, too, wasted an opportunity of their own, one that was almost as inviting as the penalty miss. With 52 minutes gone, Pape Bouba Diop found John Utaka and the Nigerian was able to turn but, mystifyingly, he pulled his shot wide of Reina's goal. Sulley Muntari then did something similar with 15 minutes remaining after Kanu fed him a pass.

For Redknapp, this point matched the one won here against Manchester United last month. Benitez will probably need to outdo Sir Alex Ferguson's men if he is to claim that elusive first Premier League title.