Unease grows as Allardyce mounts physical defence

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The Independent Online

The first snow of winter fell in Newcastle yesterday and judging by Sam Allardyce's words, the handshake with Rafael Benitez will be suitably icy this lunchtime when Liverpool visit St James' Park. Asked about his relationship with Benitez, Allardyce described it as: "Average – the bad side of average. He doesn't like me."

Allardyce said the reason for the antipathy is: "Because we [Bolton] beat them. And Bolton were not supposed to beat a team like Liverpool.

"We played a different game with different rules apparently. That's where it came from. He criticised Bolton's style saying we played outside the rules. I didn't see any referee's report saying we played outside the rules, so it was just a bit of self-protection at the time."

After a particularly acrimonious match at Bolton in January of last year, Benitez condemned Bolton's physical style and said that Liverpool had tried to play "real football". Allardyce thus derived extra enjoyment from Bolton's 2-0 victory over Liverpool last September.

"When you get criticised heavily by one of your fellow managers, you take it in the spirit that it comes," said Allardyce.

"I used that kind of criticism as a big positive to me. I'd rather them moaning and groaning about the way I beat them, rather than them saying how well we played and what an attractive game we made it and losing 3-1 or 3-0 – which is what they want me to do. They won't get that from me."

Allardyce did acknowledge Liverpool's unbeaten start to this season in the League, saying: "This is their best start under Rafa, so they are obviously getting closer. I think their expenditure over the last few years has made the squad bigger and better, so I think they will go pretty close."

Liverpool are expected to start with Fernando Torres and if partnered by Peter Crouch, Liverpool may profit against a Newcastle side missing three centre-halves through injury, as well as Michael Owen in attack.

Owen's place will be taken by Obafemi Martins and Allardyce needs a convincing display if the ever more vocal doubts on Tyneside about his style of football are to be countered.

Ominously for Allardyce, these are now being heard internally as well as externally. One point has been taken from the last nine and Newcastle's last home game was lost 4-1 to Portsmouth.

After Portsmouth chairman Chris Mort said of Newcastle's 1-1 draw at Sunderland: "Fortunately James Milner's goal saved us from what would have been a miserable international break. With the next three games being against Liverpool, Blackburn and Arsenal, we are about to have some stern tests of how much progress has been made."

Milner is likely to make way on the right to accommodate Alan Smith with Shay Given returning for Steve Harper in goal.

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