Rafa Benitez's risky decision to start Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt on the bench looked like a masterstroke on Saturday after the strikers came on late to earn a 3-2 victory at Portsmouth which sent Liverpool top. Liverpool's grandstand finish moved them one point clear of Premier League champions Manchester United, at least until Sunday when Alex Ferguson's side visit West Ham United for one of their two games in hand. It appeared Benitez may be left red-faced as Portsmouth led 2-1 after 84 minutes, on course for a win that could have permanently derailed Liverpool's title bid. However, Dutchman Kuyt blasted a shot past keeper David James and Torres then pounced in stoppage time to bullet a header home from Yossi Benayoun's cross. Benitez will now cross his fingers Torres returns unscathed from international duty next week, especially after selling striker Robbie Keane back to Tottenham Hotspur and losing captain Steven Gerrard to a hamstring injury in Wednesday's FA Cup replay defeat by Everton. "Torres, Kuyt and (fellow substitute Xabi) Alonso were really tired," Benitez told the club's website. "We had to play extra-time with 10 men in the FA Cup replay and then come here three days later. MEDICAL STAFF "They were so tired. I talked with the medical and technical staff and made the decision. "It is not a gamble when you know they are tired. If you ask the players, all of them will say they are fit, but you have to decide based on all the information." After Sunday's 2-0 win over Chelsea and Saturday's dramatic victory at Fratton Park, Liverpool's bid for a first English title since 1990 is back on track after a succession of costly draws. "The team's mentality is very good and confidence is high and these things will be very important for the rest of the season," Benitez added. "We knew it could be difficult to stay at the top for a long time but we are there. If we are in this position in the last month we'll be able to fight for the title. "Every win is crucial. We have to win almost every game. We have won and we're trying to put pressure on them (United) but they have experience and they know they also have to win almost every game."
7 February 2009
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