Johnson's head exploits Benitez bloomer
By Tom Collomosse - The Independent
Rafael Benitez needs an enormous improvement from his
Liverpool side in the first leg of the Champions' League
semi-final at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday following
this stunning defeat by relegation-threatened Crystal
Palace here yesterday.
Andrew Johnson's 35th-minute goal was enough to give
Palace three vital points that lifted them out of the
Premiership relegation zone, but Benitez must be
regretting his decision to rest some of his key players.
The gifted Spanish playmaker Xabi Alonso - who Benitez
claimed was injured - was not even on the bench, and
John Arne Riise only came on as a second-half
substitute. Luis Garcia had a thigh injury and Igor
Biscan was rested.
Liverpool also missed the chance to close the gap on
Everton - who could only draw 1-1 at home to Birmingham
- in the race to qualify for next season's Champions'
League. They are now four points behind their Merseyside
Benitez was clearly upset by Palace's physical approach.
"We wanted to win the game but sometimes it is not
possible to play football," he said. "Football is
football and is similar everywhere but I have not seen
many games like this in other countries.
"Watch the match on television and analyse the game.
Look at the three challenges on Milan Baros and judge
The Czech Republic striker, was forced to hobble off
shortly before half-time after some rough treatment from
the Palace defenders and Benitez does not yet know
whether if he will be fit to face Chelsea.
Palace are now a point clear of West Bromwich Albion -
who have a match in hand - and two above Southampton,
who face their local rivals Portsmouth today. Iain
Dowie's men have a home match against Southampton on 7
May, sandwiched between trips to Newcastle and Charlton,
whom they face on the final day of the Premiership
Mindful of the biggest match of Liverpool's season at
Stamford Bridge, Benitez made four changes to his
starting line-up. The captain, Steven Gerrard, was
brought back into the side along with Anthony Le Tallec,
Mauricio Pellegrino and John Welsh. Alonso and Luis
Garcia should be available to face Chelsea.
The Palace manager, Iain Dowie, also made four changes,
with Danny Granville, Tony Popovic, Aki Riihilahti and
Tom Soares all recalled. The changes seemed to work as
Palace displayed an excellent attitude, high work-rate
and the displays of Johnson, central defender Fitz Hall
and midfielder Michael Hughes were superb.
Although Liverpool settled into the game better than
their hosts, Palace seemed to be the more threatening.
In the 27th minute Hall played a superb crossfield pass
to release Johnson, whose clever reverse ball found
Granville, but the left-back could not find the finish
to match his run and Jerzy Dudek saved easily. At the
other end, Le Tallec found Baros with a clever pass, but
Gonzalo Sorondo was alert to the danger and made a
perfectly timed tackle for Palace.
The home side took the lead in the 35th minute. Jamie
Carragher headed Granville's cross clear, but when
Routledge volleyed the ball back into the danger zone
from the right it was Johnson who reacted quickest to
head the ball into Dudek's bottom-right corner.
Palace began the second half as dynamically as they had
ended the first, and Liverpool were lucky not to fall
further behind. Sami Hyypia and Pellegrino made a hash
of Johnson's low cross, but Soares - perhaps surprised
that the ball had reached him - shot high and wide.
Liverpool responded by switching to a 4-4-2 formation
after Fernando Morientes' header had been saved by Gabor
Kiraly, Benitez sending on Riise for Pellegrino. After a
quiet first half, Gerrard's influence grew as his side
came forward in search of an equaliser.
The England midfielder showed his ability with a clever
pass for Morientes in the 71st minute, and the Spain
striker was denied only by a superb tackle from Popovic.
Eight minutes later, a raking pass from Gerrard picked
out the Liverpool substitute Djibril Cissť on the right
corner of the penalty area, but the Frenchman's volley
was easily stopped by Kiraly.
The Hungary goalkeeper then kept his side in front with
a fantastic save from Gerrard's well-struck effort from
20 yards following Morientes' knock-down. At the end,
Palace sometimes defended with eight men. But they
By Alex Dunn - Sky Sports
Crystal Palace assistant manager Kit Symons has hit
back at Rafa Benitez's comments about the physical
nature of his side.
The Liverpool chief hinted after his side's 1-0 defeat
that Palace were over physical, with Milan Baros a first
half casuality after being the victim of several tough
However, Symons believes his side never stepped over the
line and on the contrary, pointed to the booking count
as an indicator as to how the afternoon had unfolded.
"Look at the bookings count," said Symons. "Five of
their players were booked, and only two of ours.
"Liverpool are an excellent side. Their form in Europe
this season shows that, so we needed to work very hard
to nullify their threat.
"And apart from an excellent save by Gabor Kiraly from
Steven Gerrard towards the end, we made life difficult
for them and they didn't create many chances.
"(The relegation dogfight) will be about which team can
hold its nerve, and which team is willing to play
football when the going is tough.
"There will be some really hostile atmospheres to face
between now and the end of the season, but I'm convinced
we can churn out the results."
By Lee Brown - LFC Offficial Website
Angry Liverpool Manager Rafa Benitez has hit out at
Crystal Palace's physical style after his side suffered
a deeply disappointing defeat at Selhurst Park today.
Andy Johnson's 33rd minute strike was enough to give
Iain Dowie's strugglers the points, but Benitez felt
that Palace's tactics made it impossible for his side to
He said, "I am very disappointed with the result, but we
tried to play and sometimes this isn't possible.
"We knew they would be very physical, but ask Milan
Baros about how physical they were. He has problems all
over his body. Watch the TV and you will see what I
Baros was forced off injured after 37 minutes after a
series of heavy tackles and is rated as doubtful for
Wednesday's vital Champions League clash with Chelsea.
This defeat now leaves Liverpool with an almost
impossible task of making 4th place this season, but
Benitez says they won't give up without a fight.
"I thought we controlled the first half", he said. "But
conceding the goal when we did made the difference.
"Now we have three games left in the league and two in
the Champions League and we must focus for these games.
We will probably have to win our last three games though
to have a chance of finishing 4th."