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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own