Terrific Torres bails out Rafa the rotator

Portsmouth 2 Liverpool 3: Spaniard's injury-time winner lifts strange-looking Liverpool into top spot

The cerebral Rafa Benitez suddenly appears to be an addicted gambler. Already missing Steven Gerrard and the suspended Lucas Leiva here yesterday evening, he left out three of his most experienced players until well into the second half and before they came on to play decisive roles, Portsmouth looked capable of earning Tony Adams some breathing space. After winning only two out of his 15 previous matches, they led 2-1 with five minutes left, only to be undone by goals from Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres, two of the senior internationals Benitez had initially put on the substitutes' bench.

So after his public criticism of Manchester United and the sale of Robbie Keane, Benitez went out on a limb again and won. Liverpool go back to the top of the table ahead of United's game at West Ham today, albeit having played two games more. Heavy exertions against Chelsea and Everton over the past week prompted the manager to name Torres, Kuyt and Xabi Alonso among the substitutes while picking three centre-halves and three full-backs for a game he needed to win. Afterwards he justified the selection by claiming: "The three players were really, really tired. On Wednesday we had played with ten men for extra-time. We spoke to the medical staff and it's not a gamble when you know how tired they are. We could have lost but we deserved to win. "

The difference in a frantic last 20 minutes containing two goals to each team was that Liverpool's big names seized the day while Portsmouth's let themselves down. "On the positive side, there were some good performances, but we made mistakes," Adams admitted. "I've got faith in them still. If we keep playing as we are, I believe 100 per cent we'll do it." The consolation in terms of the League table was that the only four clubs below them all lost earlier in the day. As for his own position, Adams again insisted: "At the moment everyone's saying they want me to do the job, so I'm getting on with it."

There was encouragement for him in the performance of Greek international captain Angelos Basinas and the new attacking partnership of Peter Crouch and David Nugent, which seemed to come to fruition after a first half in which Liverpool had most of the play. David James had watched a free-kick by Daniel Agger clip a post and had then touched Javier Mascherano's drive for a corner, and the first of the substitutions that Liverpool's following were doubtless hoping for should have paid an immediate dividend. Kuyt, replacing the utterly ineffective David Ngog after an hour, was sent away by Yossi Benayoun's fine run but Ryan Babel, three yards out, completely missed the centre.

The home crowd laughed, then roared as Portsmouth unexpectedly took the lead. Crouch was twice involved, laying the ball off then receiving it back and playing in Nugent, the Everton fan, for a smart finish. Crouch then became the villain, having a heavy hand in the equaliser. His back pass was well short of James, who handled under pressure from Kuyt. Alonso, just on as replacement for Andrea Dossena, touched the indirect free-kick to Fabio Aurelio, whose shot from 12 yards flew just inside a post.

Liverpool's big guns appeared capable of going on to win, only to fall behind again when the unfortunately named Nadir Belhadj took a free-kick on the right that was headed in by Hermann Hreidarsson: another set-piece goal conceded by Liverpool's zonal marking. Now Torres came on and fortunes swung again as senior players made critical errors. In the 85th minute, Sylvain Distin allowed Kuyt - looking anything but a tired man - to thrash a shot past James's shoulder from an acute angle.

A draw would still have pepped up Portsmouth and discouraged their visitors. But in added time, Benayoun reached the byline and clipped back a cross that Torres headed firmly past a despairing goalkeeper. It was hardly the occasion James would have wanted to celebrate equalling Gary Speed's Premier League record with his 535th appearance. After 11 League games without a clean sheet he and his club could desperately do with one. A home game in hand against Manchester City on Saturday followed by a visit to Stoke may offer the opportunity but then come Manchester United and Chelsea in the space of four days.

Benitez can hardly rely on them to assist Liverpool by taking points from the latter pair. But after winning in this manner, the gambling man must believe his luck is in.

Attendance: 20,524

Referee: Howard Webb

Man of the match: Agger

Match rating: 7/10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral