Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wigan 1-1 Liverpool

Mido scored a late penalty on his Wigan debut to further dent Liverpool's Premier League title ambitions.
The Egypt striker struck the ball past Pepe Reina after Lucas Leiva had clumsily brought down Jason Koumas.
Yossi Benayoun had brilliantly put Liverpool ahead from a tight angle, while Fernando Torres hit the post.
But Emmerson Boyce headed wide for Wigan and Hugo Rodallega struck the Liverpool crossbar late on as Rafael Benitez's Reds slipped to third.
The result was rich reward for Wigan manager Steve Bruce's willingness to chase the game after the break.
He brought on Koumas and Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega - and saw his team score the goal that prevented the Latics slipping to a third straight Premier League defeat.
The result must have been especially pleasing for the Latics boss because he was without Antonio Valencia (hamstring), Chris Kirkland (back) and Titus Bramble (suspended), while it was Wigan's first game since the sale of Wilson Palacios and Emile Heskey.
But the result is another blow to Liverpool's title ambitions.
Rafael Benitez's team have now drawn their last three league games and missed out on the chance to move level on points with leaders Manchester United.
Chelsea move above Liverpool in the table and Benitez's team are still waiting for their first Premier League win of the year.
The tension was clear to see on the face of Benitez, with the Reds boss seemingly unable to remain in his seat for more than a few seconds at a time before springing up and barking instructions from his technical area.His team had virtually monopolised possession in the opening stages but did not really threaten Mike Pollitt's goal until Torres came within inches of an opener.
The Spain striker got across Boyce and flicked Steven Gerrard's left-wing cross towards goal but was denied by the far post.
The visiting team created several other first-half openings, with Torres heading wide and 36-year-old Pollitt making a decent save to deny Ryan Babel.
Pollitt later looked to have done enough to prevent Benayoun from scoring after forcing the Israel international wide but the Liverpool player smashed the ball home from the most acute of angles.
The ball skimmed the post on its way into goal and it was an especially brilliant strike given that Benayoun, who scored the winner at the JJB Stadium last season, had to shoot on the turn while trying to keep his balance.
Referee Phil Dowd, who earlier waved away penalty appeals for a handball against Martin Skrtel, played his part in the goal by playing an intelligent advantage after a foul on Gerrard.
Gerrard almost doubled Liverpool's lead on the stroke of half-time with a free-kick from an outrageous distance that narrowly missed.
Wigan, fielding a new-look all-Egyptian strikeforce of Amr Zaki and Mido, did have a period of pressure midway through the half and really should have taken the lead.Boyce was left completely unmarked as the Liverpool defence tried to play him offside from Daniel de Ridder's cross but the defender headed wide from 12 yards.
Wigan tried to force the pace after the break while the Reds pressed and probed as they looked for a decisive second.
Benayoun dribbled brilliantly into the Wigan box but his pass across goal was blocked, while Gerrard shot across goal but wide of the target.
Torres made way for Albert Riera and Kuyt came on for Benayoun but it was Wigan who scored next after Lucas fouled Koumas with little sign of immediate danger to the Liverpool goal.
Robbie Keane, who had been named on the bench, replaced Gerrard within seconds of Wigan scoring but there were to be no further chances for Liverpool to snatch victory.
Wigan: Pollitt, Melchiot, Boyce, Scharner, Figueroa, De Ridder (Koumas 63), Brown, Cattermole, Taylor (Camara 80), Zaki (Rodallega 77), Mido. Subs Not Used: Kingson, Edman, Watson, Kapo.
Booked: Figueroa.
Goals: Mido 83 pen.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio, Benayoun (Kuyt 75), Leiva Lucas, Mascherano, Babel, Gerrard (Keane 84), Torres (Riera 72). Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Agger, Alonso.
Goals: Benayoun 41.
Att: 21,237
Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gerrard focused on Cup – Benitez

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will plead not guilty to the current charges against his for an incident in a Southport nightclub on December 28th.
The Reds skipper was arrested after an altercation at the Lounge Inn, just hours after helping his side to an emphatic 1-5 victory over Newcastle United

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is sure Steven Gerrard will put his court appearance out of his mind and focus on facing Everton in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Gerrard, 28, appeared at North Sefton Magistrates Court on Friday to answer charges of assault and affray relating to an incident in a bar in December.
He was driven straight to training afterwards where he resumed preparation for the fourth-round tie at Anfield.
The case has now been adjourned until March 20th.Gerrard has been given the full backing of manager Rafa Benitez, who says his midfield maestro has put the court hearing to the back of his mind and is full focussed on the football.

"Steven is in the right frame of mind. He is fine," said Benitez.
"He showed the other week [when the incident was first made public] that he has a responsibility to the fans and the club.
"He is a very good professional and showed he can concentrate on the job and he knows he has our full support."
Gerrard has continued to play for Liverpool since the incident at the Lounge Inn in Southport, Merseyside where he was one of six men arrested and later charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray.
The Liverpool captain scored his side's goal in their 1-1 Premier League draw with Everton on Monday.
Benitez has more than just Gerrard's mental strength to concern him prior to Sunday's derby.
The build-up to the game has been overshadowed by reports of another prospective take-over of the club, this time from the super-rich Al Kharafi family from Kuwait.
Benitez claimed ignorance of the situation and dismissed the potential destabilising effect this could have on his side.
"I knew nothing of this and I was surprised to see what is being said," he insisted. "I would prefer to train the team and concentrate on the game with Everton.
"We know things can happen around [the club]. But at the end we have to come to work, to train and to be ready for the next game.
"It will be difficult against Everton, so we must focus on only what happens on the pitch."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Liverpool 1-1 Everton

Tim Cahill's late equaliser delivered a serious blow to Liverpool's Premier League title hopes and earned Everton a deserved draw in the Merseyside derby at Anfield.
Liverpool looked to be heading back to the top of the table after captain Steven Gerrard's trademark 25-yard finish gave them the lead on 68 minutes.
But Everton were resilient throughout, and Cahill glanced home Mikel Arteta's fiercely driven free-kick with only three minutes left to give David Moyes' side a battling point.
Fernando Torres missed Liverpool's best chance in the first half, clipping a post when clean through, but Pepe Reina also had to save well from Victor Anichebe's early strike and Cahill's header.
Liverpool paid the price for a cautious approach after Gerrard's spectacular strike put them in front, and they now stay second in the table behind Manchester United - level on points but having played a game more.
Boss Benitez needed a win to restore normality to the Anfield atmosphere after his recent spats with United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson and his own hierarchy.
But Everton were in no mood to leave Anfield empty-handed and set the stage perfectly for part two of the derby double-header in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday.
Benitez delivered an upbeat message about Liverpool's title ambitions after watching his side squander a point, but this was a performance that merely confirmed that the title momentum has switched firmly in favour of champions United in the last 10 days.
Everton had the game's outstanding performer in defender Phil Jagielka, and once again made light of the handicap of being stripped of virtually all their striking resources.
Benitez employed his most expensive attacking weaponry by reuniting Torres and Robbie Keane up front in an attempt to breach an Everton defence who had kept six successive clean sheets.
Anichebe came in for the suspended Marouane Fellaini - and almost gave Everton a stunning start with a low 25-yard drive that had Liverpool keeper Reina scrambling to his left to save.
He then provided a cross for Cahill, whose header at the far post brought a fine save from the diving Reina.
Liverpool had enjoyed plenty of possession, but with Jagielka faultless, Everton's defence was in typically miserly mood.
Everton were opened up after 27 minutes when Torres wasted a perfect opportunity to break the deadlock.
The Spanish striker swooped on to Sami Hyypia's through ball as Everton's defence hesitated, but with only keeper Tim Howard to beat - and to the amazement of all inside Anfield - he clipped the outside of the post with his finish.
Albert Riera then fired just wide from 25 yards as Liverpool finally built up some momentum as the interval approached.
Liverpool, predictably in front of The Kop, came out firing after the break and were furious when referee Howard Webb ignored their appeals for a penalty as Torres tumbled under Jagielka's challenge.
Moyes delighted with derby draw
Everton keeper Howard made his first meaningful save after 55 minutes, diving to his left to deny Gerrard from 12 yards, but it still needed a magnificent saving tackle from Leighton Baines to stop Hyypia turning in the rebound.
Torres then fired in a shot on the turn from long range, but it was always rising and never threatened to trouble Howard.
It had been another bitterly disappointing night for Keane, and it was no surprise when he was replaced by Yossi Benayoun after 66 minutes. He cut a dejected figure as he departed, having once again failed to justify his £20m price tag.
Everton then had penalty claims of their own when Anichebe tumbled under challenge from Martin Skrtel, but it would have been the harshest of awards.
And their disappointment was even more acute seconds later when Gerrard picked up Riera's pass and took aim from 25 yards, before burying a low shot to Howard's right.
It gave Everton, who had showed tremendous spirit, a huge task as they attempted to work their way back into the game they had fought so hard to stay in.
And, after Benitez had fatefully substituted the tiring Torres with Lucas, they struck after 87 minutes to take a share of the spoils.
Arteta's wicked delivery was met by Cahill, who steered a header beyond the stranded Reina.
It sparked scenes of wild celebrations among the Everton fans - but the silence from Liverpool's supporters at the final whistle told the story that this was very much a missed opportunity for Benitez's side.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Gerrard, Alonso, Riera (Babel 89), Keane (Benayoun 67), Torres (Leiva Lucas 85).Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Arbeloa, Mascherano.
Goals: Gerrard 68.

Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Lescott, Jagielka, Baines, Osman, Arteta, Neville, Pienaar, Cahill, Anichebe.Subs Not Used: Nash, Van der Meyde, Castillo, Rodwell, Jutkiewicz, Gosling, Kissock.
Booked: Pienaar, Arteta.
Goals: Cahill 87.
Att: 44,382
Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Stoke 0-0 Liverpool

Stoke City earned a deserved point against Liverpool as the Premier League leaders produced a lifeless performance at the Britannia Stadium.
Rory Delap came closest to breaking the deadlock for Stoke early on when he rattled the bar from close range - and Liverpool could have had no complaints if Tony Pulis' side had claimed all three points.
But captain Steven Gerrard almost snatched the win Liverpool's display barely merited when he angled a free-kick against the bar with six minutes left, then struck a post in stoppage time.
Liverpool never exerted any serious dominance over Stoke, failing to increase the pressure on Manchester United and Chelsea ahead of their meeting at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The game was played out in front of a typically vibrant atmosphere - and in front of Argentina coach Diego Maradona, who was a guest of honour at the Britannia Stadium who was no doubt keeping an eye on Liverpool's Javier Mascherano.
And it was against the backdrop of Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's public tirade against his Manchester United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson in his pre-match press conference on Friday.
But his players failed to follow his defiant words with actions, leaving both Manchester United and Chelsea with the opportunity to close in on the Reds.
Benitez left strike pair Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane on the bench, and lone striker Dirk Kuyt had Liverpool's two best opportunities of a combative first 45 minutes.
Kuyt should have given the visitors the lead after only seven minutes, but he glanced an inviting cross from Albert Riera yards wide.
But Stoke were refusing to take a backward step, and only the woodwork prevented them from taking the lead four minutes later.
Delap's initial throw posed no threat, but when Liverpool failed to clear he appeared at the far post, only to crash a shot against the bar from eight yards with Richard Cresswell unable to turn in the rebound.
Liverpool were ordered and composed in the early stages, and it took a fine block from Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen to deny Kuyt again when he found space in the penalty area.
The Potters then dominated possession for the remainder of the opening period, with Ryan Shawcross seeing a header ruled out for offside.
Pulis' side had more than matched Liverpool, but the sight of Torres warming up with intent during the break was a signal of threat that was awaiting them.
Pepe Reina almost gifted Stoke an opener after 49 minutes when his wayward clearance found Dave Kitson, and even though he rounded the Reds keeper he could only find the side-netting.
The visitors had not displayed any menace in the second half, and it was no surprise when Torres was introduced on the hour - indeed the only surprise was that it had not happened earlier.
Stoke were finally put under pressure in the 67th minute when Gerrard's free-kick sparked an outbreak of mass confusion, but Lucas chose to head across goal from point-blank range and Sami Hyypia's final effort was well off target.
Liverpool had coped well with Delap's trademark long throws, but they almost conceded with 17 minutes left, only for Kitson to head over from only eight yards.
And Glenn Whelan was only inches away with a curling free-kick with Reina well beaten as Stoke applied pressure once more.
Liverpool are never more dangerous than in the closing stages of a deadlock, and Gerrard almost did the trick again with a swerving free-kick that bounced to safety off the bar.
And the home supporters held their breath as Gerrard then steered a shot against the post in the dying seconds - but that would have been a cruel climax for a Stoke side who delivered a tireless display.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis:"It was a good performance today and we created some good chances. On another day we could even have won.
"Liverpool play a certain way and get players in certain areas to outnumber you. It was very important that we stayed disciplined.
Our performances recently have not been as bad as our results. In the last two games we have shot ourselves in the foot. This is a smashing result."Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez:"Today was a difficult, different to the other one [0-0 draw with Stoke] at Liverpool. Then we created a lot of chances and had a lot of opportunities.
"This one was more difficult. We started well and had control of the game. They had a lot of options in terms of belief and we lost control.
"It is a game we could win but we could also have lost too, and it was important not to lose. When we play against 10 men and an organised team it is not easy."
Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Delap, Amdy Faye, Whelan, Etherington (Lawrence 78), Kitson (Pugh 89), Cresswell.Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Griffin, Olofinjana, Tonge, Sonko.
Booked: Etherington, Wilkinson.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Benayoun (Babel 76), Leiva Lucas, Mascherano, Riera (Torres 60), Gerrard, Kuyt.Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Keane, Plessis, El Zhar.
Booked: Gerrard, Leiva Lucas.

Att: 27,500
Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Rafa Benitez launches attack on Sir Alex Ferguson

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has launched a furious attack on Manchester United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson.
Benitez claims that Ferguson is "the only manager who will not be punished" for verbally attacking referees. He produced a document which detailed what he claimed was evidence the Manchester United boss was above the footballing law.
And Liverpool chief Benitez warned Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari to “zonal mark” the United backroom staff at half-time to prevent them surrounding match officials when they play tomorrow.
"We had a Respect campaign meeting and I said forget it, because Mr Ferguson is killing the referees," said Benitez.
Benitez was responding to Ferguson's midweek comment that nerves might ruin Liverpool's title bid, before issuing his tirade against the United boss.
Ferguson, who was given a two-game touchline ban and fined £10,000 in November for remonstrating with referee Mike Dean, had his pre-match news conference before Benitez's and was unable to immediately reply.
Benitez's extraordinary outburst came after a journalist asked Benitez for his response to Ferguson suggesting that Premier League leaders Liverpool might get nervous in the run-in.
"I was surprised by what has been said, but maybe they (Manchester United) are nervous because we are at the top of the table," added Benitez.
The Spaniard then pulled out a sheet of paper and read out a list of accusations about Ferguson's conduct regarding referees, the FA's Respect campaign and fixture lists.
Liverpool are top – and if they win today they will be six points clear of second-placed Chelsea and ten ahead of the champions before the pair meet at Old Trafford tomorrow. Benitez sat with a sheet of paper, unfolded in front of him, from which he read a catalogue of grievances against the Manchester United regime.
The Respect campaign is the FA's programme of activities to combat unacceptable behaviour in the game at every level, both on the pitch and from the sidelines, which began in August last year.
"I want to talk about facts," said Benitez. "I want to be clear, I do not want to play mind games too early, although they seem to want to start.
"During the Respect campaign - and this is a fact - Mr Ferguson was charged by the FA for improper conduct after comments made about Martin Atkinson and Keith Hackett.
"He was not punished. He is the only manager in the league that cannot be punished for these things.
"How can you talk about the Respect campaign and yet criticise the referee every single week?
"We know what happens every time we go to Old Trafford and the United staff. They are always going man-to-man with the referees, especially at half-time when they walk close to the referees and they are talking and talking.
"All managers need to know is that only Mr Ferguson can talk about the fixtures, can talk about referees - and nothing happens.
"We need to know that I am talking about facts, not my impression. There are things that everyone can see every single week.
"To complain and to always have an advantage is not fair."
Following Ferguson’s allegation that the fixture list was loaded against his team, Benitez mockingly suggested the United boss compile it in his office and then distribute it to the other Premier League clubs.
Benitez set out to prove the Old Trafford club gets favourable treatment from the FA and match officials claiming:
-Ferguson is considered untouchable by the authorities.
"Two years ago we had a lot of early kick-offs away on Saturdays when United were playing on Sundays. And we didn't say anything," said the Reds boss.
"Now he is complaining about everything, that everybody is against United. But the second half of the season will see them playing at home against all the teams at the top of the table, it is a fantastic advantage.
"At Christmas, United played on the 29th and the rest of the teams played on the 28th. We were away against Newcastle two days after playing Bolton. They were playing about 40 hours later, but they were not complaining then.
"If he wants to talk about fixtures, and have a level playing field, there are two options if we don't want more problems with fixtures.
"One is the same as in Spain, the draw for the first part of the league is known, everyone knows which weekend. In the second half everyone plays the opposite, so you all know.
"Sky and Setanta have the right to choose their games and it will be the same for everyone. So Mr Ferguson will not be complaining about fixtures and a campaign against United.
"Or there is another option. That Mr Ferguson organises the fixtures in his office and sends it to us and everyone will know and cannot complain. That is simple."
Meanwhile, Benitez has also revealed his disappointment that negotiations over a new contract are progressing slowly.
"My agent has not yet received any documents, and he is a little disappointed," said the former Valencia boss.
"But OK, we will see what happens. I do not want to say too much at the moment."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rafa looks to stick to current squad rather than twist

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has hinted he is unlikely to do any major transfer deals in January. It has become clear that the Anfield chief is highly unlikely to delve into the transfer market this month, with very little prospect of any of his first-team squad stars leaving the club.
He said: "We do not need to go into the transfer market, we are certainly not desperate to do so.
"If we find we need something we will try, but it is always hard in this window and very expensive."
Benitez's hand has been strengthened by the return to fitness of striker Fernando Torres and defenders Martin Skrtel, Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa.
He added: "We finished 2008 very well, we played with style and have scored a lot of goals. I am very pleased and happy with the situation and hope it will be the same in the new year.
"We have other players apart from Torres coming back from injury. There is Skrtel, Aurelio and Arbeloa all fit now. It will be like signing three new players."
"We are in a good position and I am happy to use the players we have now plus the ones returning from injury."
Liverpool have been strongly linked for moves with former striker Emile Heskey, now at Wigan, and Portsmouth defender Glen Johnson.
But the Reds have made no firm moves and Benitez is now looking increasingly likely to make an assault on three trophies with the players currently at his disposal.
The only departure is likely to be out-of-favour Jermaine Pennant, whose contract expires at the end of the season. And if a deal cannot be secured, Benitez will send the winger out on loan.
Benitez will rebuff any attempts by AC Milan to sign defender Daniel Agger, while Andreas Dossena, who would have been a possible departure, is now needed as back-up for Aurelio at left-back.
That is because Liverpool will lose impressive Argentinian youngster Emiliano Insua until February 8 due to the South American Under-20 Championships.
Insua has made a big impact in recent weeks, and the international call-up could not have come at a worse time for him.
He has recently broken into Benitez's first team and done well in four successive matches. But his enforced international departure has been offset by the return from injury of Aurelio.
One player, 17-year-old striker Marvin Pourie, is leaving the club in a £50,000 switch to Schalke. Pourie joined Liverpool's academy 18 months ago from Borussia Dortmund but has not made the breakthrough expected.
With things going well on the pitch, the club's controversial American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have opted for a low profile to maintain the club's concentration on their title bid. The widely-touted six-month extension to their £350m of loans has also been confirmed.
That move was always expected, with the club more than capable of meeting the interest payments. And the last thing Liverpool need now, after their experiences of last season, is a high-profile battle for control of the club.
The Americans will have to repay the £350m or sell up in the summer, and by then they hope for an easing of the credit crunch which will encourage potential buyers.
If Liverpool are champions, that will further help their cause.
Champions League qualification for next season should also by then have been assured. With a 10-point lead over fifth-placed Arsenal at present, it is a decent bet that Liverpool will finish in the top four again, and maintain the flow of UEFA cash into the Anfield coffers.
The date of Liverpool's FA Cup fourth-round home tie with Everton has been set for Sunday, January 24 - kick off 4pm - with the league visit to Wigan the following week moved from Tuesday to Wednesday, January 28.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Preston 0-2 Liverpool

A stunning Albert Riera strike and a late Fernando Torres tap-in helped Liverpool to victory at Preston in a pulsating FA Cup third-round clash.
With Liverpool dominating, Riera's trickery opened up the defence on 23 minutes and his shot flew in the corner past goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.
Sean St Ledger looked to have equalised for Preston, but his header was ruled out because of a silly Jon Parkin foul.
Steven Gerrard unselfishly set up Torres in injury-time to seal the win.
Gerrard showed no signs of distraction after his arrest for assault last week, and his form fully justified Rafael Benitez's decision to keep faith with his captain with the England midfielder at the heart of everything for Liverpool.
Preston went into the game in decent form, winning six of their last 10 games in the Championship, giving them every reason to fancy their chances against the side sitting at the top of the Premier League.
The form of Ross Wallace has been key to Preston's rise with the on-loan winger scoring three times since his move from Sunderland, and his sizzling free-kick after five minutes forced Liverpool keeper Diego Cavalieri into a plunging save.
The rest of the half involved a sea of red piling forward. The alarm bells were ringing for Preston after just 11 minutes when Riera's speed set up Robbie Keane who shot badly wide.
With a Gerrard volley falling into the grateful hands of Lonergan, it was not long before the visitors grabbed the lead on 24 minutes.
Despite a lucky bobble that enabled the ball to end up with Riera on the edge of the box, there was nothing lucky about the finish.
The 26-year-old Spanish international twisted and turned and with the defenders mesmerized, the ball was soon flying into the top right corner.
Keane should have had a hat-trick by half-time, but a combination of keeper Lonergan and wasteful shooting denied the Irish striker.
The second period began in similar fashion and Daniel Agger should have doubled the lead when he nodded a Gerrard corner shockingly wide.
On the hour, Gerrard's side-footed shot was tipped over by Lonergan, but it seemed to kick-start a Preston revival.
St Ledger headed the ball into the net with 17 minutes remaining, but the wild celebrations were curtailed with the impressive Parkin having been spotted hauling down Jamie Carragher on the goa-lline.
For the final 20 minutes, Liverpool looked a little wobbly with Parkin and Wallace proving a real menace.
As Alan Irvine's men poured forward in search of the equaliser Liverpool broke away and Gerrard capped off a fine display by setting up substitute Torres to tap in from three yards in his first game for six weeks.
Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee on Steven Gerrard:
"He is a great footballer, he produced a terrific performance.
"Things have been written about him, but we know that he is a terrific professional, a model professional and this club will put all our support behind Stevie Gerrard.
"But he is a great servant for this club, a great ambassador and we will continue to support him throughout, he's a terrific guy."
Preston manager Alan Irvine:
"Our lads have been excited ever since the draw, and that was because they wanted to play against Liverpool's big stars.
"It has been an education for them. For Sean St Ledger to be facing Fernando Torres was a great education for him.
"I knew Steven Gerrard would play well, he is fantastic, top class, and I knew he would do that. I have very rarely seen him do anything less than that."
Preston: Lonergan, Jones, Mawene, St. Ledger, Davidson (Nolan 56), Sedgwick, Chaplow (Nicholson 81), McKenna, Wallace, Parkin, Mellor (Elliott 62).Subs Not Used: Chris Neal, Brown, Carter, Whaley.
Booked: Chaplow.
Liverpool: Cavalieri, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua, Alonso (Leiva Lucas 46), Mascherano (Aurelio 83), Babel, Gerrard, Riera, Keane (Torres 73).Subs Not Used: Reina, Ngog, El Zhar, Skrtel.
Goals: Riera 25, Torres 90.

Att: 23,046
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Gerrard receives Benitez backing

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez says Steven Gerrard has his "full support and backing" following his captain's arrest after an alleged brawl.
Gerrard was charged with assault and affray after an incident at a bar in Southport in the early hours of Monday.
Benitez said: "I sat down with him and had a very good talk about the situation. We'll do whatever we can to support Steven in the weeks ahead."
Benitez also confirmed that Gerrard, 28, took part in training on Wednesday.
Gerrard was arrested with five other men - two of whom face the same charges as the footballer - near the Lounge Inn bar and nightclub in the seaside resort.
Benitez added: "Steven explained to me what had happened and I told him he has my full support and backing, along with everyone else at the football club.
"He's trained with the other lads after a couple of days off for the squad and is keen now to focus solely on his football. He is our captain and a key player for us.
"We've worked very hard to get into the position we're in going through to the new year and all of us are determined to keep that progress going. We're now concentrating on our preparation for the FA Cup game at Preston this weekend."
Steven has been an outstanding servant to Liverpool for the last 10 years and the club will give him all the support he needs at this time
Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor said: "We have a watching brief on this and have offered any help we can. I was concerned when I heard about the case as I have known Steven Gerrard a long time.
"I don't know the full details but as the players' union we would want to be supportive of him."
The England midfielder arrived at Liverpool's training ground in the suburb of West Derby at 1005 GMT and was greeted by a few fans, despite the freezing temperatures.
He has so far remained silent about the controversy and on Tuesday his wife Alex Curran, 26, said they would not be commenting.
Gerrard's visit to the bar on Sunday followed Liverpool's 5-1 demolition of Newcastle at St James' Park, a game in which the England international scored twice, as the Reds moved three points clear of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League.
A 34-year-old man was taken to hospital with facial injuries after the alleged incident. Gerrard is due to appear at North Sefton Magistrates' Court with the other two men on 23 January.
The Football Association said it would not be making any comment on the Gerrard case other than to stress that his position with England was not in question.
It added that players would continue to be considered for England while police investigations were on-going, with their situation looked at on a case-by-case basis were they to be convicted of a serious criminal offence.
Meanwhile, Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish believes Gerrard will cope with the scrutiny, saying: "Liverpool will support him and the Liverpool fans will support him tremendously well. He's a really strong character and I'm sure it won't affect his performance.
A Liverpool statement, released on Tuesday, read: "Steven has been an outstanding servant to Liverpool for the last 10 years and the club will give him all the support he needs at this time."
Gerrard has been capped by England 70 times and has captained his country four times. He was made an MBE last year and received an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.

Newcastle 1-5 Liverpool

Liverpool cemented their place at the Premier League summit with a ruthless demolition of Newcastle United.
Newcastle keeper Shay Given denied Liverpool before Steven Gerrard stroked home from 12 yards after 31 minutes.
Sami Hyypia headed a second five minutes later, but David Edgar pulled one back on the stroke of half-time.
Ryan Babel scrambled home Liverpool's third five minutes after the break. Gerrard raced clear for a fourth and Xabi Alonso made it five from the spot.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez surprisingly left Robbie Keane, a two-goal hero in the Boxing Day win against Bolton, on the bench - and how the Republic of Ireland striker must have wished he had been on the pitch in an encounter that was embarrassingly one-sided from start to finish.
Benitez was in the directors' box recovering from surgery for kidney stones as Liverpool exposed Newcastle's every flaw throughout 90 minutes of torture for the home fans - providing further confirmation that the Merseysiders' are in this title race for the long haul.
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley took the "For Sale" signs down from the club prior to kick-off - and their players then produced the sort of performance that would have sent potential purchasers heading for the hills.
Liverpool created chances at will, and only a combination of brilliant goalkeeping from Given and poor finishing from Liverpool stopped Newcastle from shipping at least six goals in the first half alone.
Given set the tone for his one-man show of defiance by blocking Dirk Kuyt and saving brilliantly twice from Gerrard inside the first 13 minutes.
Hyypia then headed wide of an open goal from Gerrard's free-kick before Lucas somehow failed to turn in from a yard following a goalmouth scramble. The Brazilian then had a header turned away by Given before Charles N'Zogbia cleared another Hyypia header off the line.
Newcastle's survival for the first 31 minutes had been almost miraculous - but it could not last and to say Liverpool deserved the lead Gerrard gave them was a massive under-statement.
Javier Mascherano carved Newcastle open down the right flank, and when Yossi Benayoun pulled back a cross for Gerrard the Liverpool captain obliged with a thumping finish high past Given.
Newcastle's defending from set-pieces would have shamed a Sunday league side, and they paid the price again six minutes later when Hyypia rose to head Gerrard's corner beyond Given.
Hyypia had another header saved by Given before Newcastle astonishingly gave themselves a lifeline seconds before the interval.
This time Liverpool's defending was slack as Edgar got in front of Jamie Carragher to head past the previously unemployed Pepe Reina.
If Newcastle boss Joe Kinnear had ordered his side to improve their defending after the break, his plea had clearly fallen on deaf ears as they conceded another cheap goal after 50 minutes.
Gerrard's unremarkable corner created an outbreak of mass confusion in the six-yard area, and as a variety of Newcastle defenders stood motionless, Babel jabbed home the simplest of goals.
Substitute Geremi almost gave Newcastle slim hopes of a revival when his 25-yard free-kick clipped the bar, but in reality Newcastle had been outclassed.
Newcastle had been appalling, but credit must also go to Liverpool for a hugely impressive destruction and Gerrard underscored their superiority with their fourth goal after 66 minutes.
Lucas slipped an inviting through ball into Gerrard's path, and he was in no mood to let Given deny him again as he chipped a clever right-foot finish over the advancing keeper.
Gerrard was then withdrawn, even drawing applause from Newcastle fans in the season's best 52,114 crowd, but there was no let up in the pressure on Newcastle.
Liverpool's fifth goal came with 13 minutes left, substitute Alonso scoring from the spot after another replacement, David Ngog, had been hauled down by Edgar.
The game ended as it began, with Given saving brilliantly from Lucas' header and Liverpool remaining at the head of the race for the Premier League title.
Newcastle manager Joe Kinnear:"When you've six or seven key players missing it's always going to be difficult.
"We've had to put young kids in there and ask them to do a man's job against Liverpool, but we didn't do ourselves any favours in the way we defended.
"Shay Given proved that, without a shadow of a doubt, he's the best keeper in the Premiership. He made some magnificent saves."
Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee: "This is a strong, focused and determined bunch of players.
"We are improving with every game and that is all we can look for but you haven't seen the best of Liverpool yet.
"You win nothing in December but you can lose a lot and we're pleased to be going into the New Year at the top, however we cannot rest on our laurels."
Newcastle: Given, Edgar, Taylor, Coloccini, Jose Enrique (Ameobi 46), Gutierrez, Guthrie, Butt (Geremi 56), N'Zogbia, Duff, Owen (LuaLua 79).Subs Not Used: Harper, Xisco, Kadar, Carroll.
Booked: Taylor, Given.
Goals: Edgar 45.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua, Benayoun (Alonso 60), Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Babel, Gerrard (Ngog 70), Kuyt (Skrtel 79).Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Keane, Riera, El Zhar.
Booked: Mascherano.
Goals: Gerrard 31, Hyypia 36, Babel 50, Gerrard 66, Alonso 77 pen.

Att: 52,114
Ref: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).