It was hard work
By Paul Higham - Planet Football/Sky Sports
Rafa Benitez admitted Liverpool's 1-0 win over
Southampton was hard work.
The Reds dominated most of the match but it could not
add to Florent Sinama-Pongolle's strike just before half
Liverpool's defending become more erratic in the second
period as nerves set in, and Benitez admitted that his
side need more confidence to kill teams off.
However, with so many games over Christmas the Spaniard
was happy to have recorded two wins out of two.
"It was hard work," said Benitez. "We controlled the
game in the first half but in the second half it was
"In the end it was important to win three games in a
"We had some chances at the end of the game and the
goalkeeper made some good saves, perhaps we need more
confidence when we are up 1-0 ahead."
Steven Gerrard was again in great form, and the
Liverpool skipper said the result as all important.
"It was a battle," added Gerrard. "Credit to Southampton
because they made it hard for us.
"Sometimes it's not about playing well but about getting
the points and the boys battled well today and I think
they deserved it.
"They made it hard for us and had a lot of men behind
the ball but we knew the breakthrough would come if we
kept passing the ball. We had to match them in the
middle of the park and we did that.
"Our performances at home have been really good and if
we take that into our away games then things are looking
Reds scrape win over Saints
Liverpool made it three wins on the trot in the end
thanks to Florent Sinama-Pongolle's first-half cracker.
But this was nothing like the sort of Liverpool
performance that will have Chelsea worried when they
arrive at Anfield on Saturday.
Southampton were without soon-to-be sold James Beattie
and left still without an away win this season or a
victory under new boss Harry Redknapp.
But they made life more than difficult for Liverpool and
could easily have snatched something in a second half
that was painful to watch for the Kop faithful.
In the midst of all this anxiety and error, Steven
Gerrard stood out as the class act he has become at
He chased, tackled, harrassed and battled for the cause
in an inspirational man-of the match performance.
Reds boss Rafael Benitez will be relieved to have bagged
three points from a horrible performance. Michael Owen
was back home watching from the stands and how his level
of finishing was missing from this display.
Liverpool brought in Luis Garcia, Xabi Alonso, Neil
Mellor and Stephen Warnock as Benitez rang the changes
after the 5-0 hammering of West Brom.
The game was also without each club's top striker with
Milan Baros rested ahead of Chelsea's visit and Saints
opting to leave out Beattie altogether.
The former England striker, confirmed boss Harry
Redknapp before the game, had been the subject of two
bids with the transfer window about to open and he has
clearly played his last match for the Hampshire side.
Saints set out to smother the life out of the game with
deep defence. John Arne Riise lashed in a low drive that
Antti Niemi saved while Sinama-Pongolle, Alonso and Luis
Garcia all wasted half chances.
Southampton, who also made four changes from the side
that drew goalless at home to Charlton on Sunday, has
just Dexter Blackstock up front and gifted Liverpool
acres of space, but the link play between Alonso and the
front men was off key. Luis Garcia, too, was more intent
on ambitious shooting than feeding better placed
David Prutton, booked for a foul on Luis Garcia, and
Rory Delap were doing a sound job against Gerrard and
Alonso and an air of frustration swept around Anfield as
their heroes were unable to carve out decent
Liverpool lost Steve Finnan with a leg injury after a
foul by Neil McCann, to be replaced by Salif Diao while
Andreas Jakobsson also found himself booked for a foul
Liverpool spluttered along while the Saints were more
than happy to hound them into mistakes. And there were
alarm bells when Prutton battled his way to the edge of
the box before unleashing a low drive that flashed past
Jerzy Dudek's left hand post.
Everything about Liverpool needed to be quicker and with
greater imagination as they continued to get caught in
And a minute from the break Liverpool did increase their
tempo and accuracy to go one up. Alonso snapped up
possession from Blackstock in central midfield and
instantly played an outstanding pass in behind Martin
Cranie. Sinama-Pongolle latched on to it before rifling
a low drive into the far bottom corner.
The second period saw anxiety take over in the Liverpool
ranks. Dudek did not help by flapping badly at a Delap
long throw, and then Sinama-Pongolle wasted two chances
that would have calmed his side's collective nerves.
But Southampton brought on attacking experience in
Anders Svensson and Kevin Phillips and Liverpool looked
even more uncertain.
Gerrard's tireless energy and industry keeps Liverpool
going in situations like this.
A cracking pass from the England midfielder set up Riise
for a fierce drive that crashed against the bar.
Niemi made a flying save from a Luis Garcia header
following a Nunez cross, but Southampton became
increasingly confident that they could get something
from the game, largely from Delap's dangerous long
Liverpool demanded a penalty in injury time when Niemi
sent Riise spinning into the air but referee Mark Halsey
turned them down before sounding the final whistle which
brought welcome relief for Anfield.