Benitez losing patience as Reds run out of time

A season that still has two months to run cannot end soon enough for Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez who once secured a Champions League title for his club but would now gladly settle for fourth in the Premier League.

Such a finish would put the five-time winners in the qualifying round for next season's premier European competition although on recent evidence they would again struggle to get through the group stage.

Monday's Premier League game at Wigan Athletic ended in a 1-0 defeat and a booking for talisman Steven Gerrard who may yet incur further disciplinary action after TV pictures caught him apparently waving a rude hand sign at the referee.

The result predictably led to a wave of newspaper headlines proclaiming doom and gloom at Anfield but in fact the loss went against recent type.

Liverpool had lost just one of their last 10 league games and a win against Wigan would have put them back in the top four, albeit a long way behind the top three of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

There is no disguising, though, that this season has been a massive disappointment for a team with supposed pretensions of a serious tilt at a league crown that United, Chelsea and Arsenal have swapped between them in recent years.

Liverpool have now lost nine league matches this term and only have Europa League silverware to play for after early exits from the Champions League and FA Cup.

NOT HAPPY

Benitez, who took Liverpool to a surprise Champions League triumph in 2005, has defended his team - almost monotonously - throughout this damp squib of a season but on Monday his patience had clearly run out.

"I have to be really disappointed and I can't be happy after losing a game like that," Benitez told reporters.

"You have some good games and bad games but especially at this time, at a crucial moment, we could have done better.

"It's a question of analysing why we didn't show the character we had to show in the first half."

A dismal tally of 12 league goals away from home and 45 all season compare miserably to last year's total of 77. Liverpool had 11 shots on goal against Wigan but rarely troubled their former goalkeeper Chris Kirkland.

To improve their strike rate Liverpool deesperately need a prolific partner for the injury-prone Fernando Torres.

After 29 games, Liverpool are in sixth place on 48 points, one behind Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur and three ahead of Aston Villa. However, Spurs have played one game less, while City have two games in hand and Villa three.

Liverpool, who lost just twice last season on their way to finishing second, now trail league leaders Manchester United by 15 points in a season where the club have gone backwards.

Benitez could not even bring himself to focus on a rare positive when asked about the substitute appearance of right back Glen Johnson following injury.

"It was good to have Glen back but it's no good getting players back if you don't win games," he said.

The club face French side Lille in the Europa League last 16 on Thursday and are among the favourites to lift the trophy. Winning the competition could be Benitez's saving grace.

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