Saints complete Reds' bad week
By Richard Jolly. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
The worst week of Rafael Benitez's reign at Anfield ended in an ignominious defeat as Southampton beat Liverpool 2-0.
Liverpool were underwhelming against Manchester United, beaten at Burnley and now swept aside at St Mary's by first-half goals from David Prutton and Peter Crouch.
They earned Southampton just a third Premiership win of the season - one for each manager - and provided them with renewed optimism in their relegation battle.
For Benitez, however, the problems are mounting, a dismal display compounded by Sami Hyypia's hip injury. Before then, he may have been reflecting on the wisdom of splitting the central defensive partnership of Hyypia and Jamie Carragher.
The ageing Argentine Mauricio Pellegrino was found wanting for both Southampton goals while Stephen Warnock, brought in at left back, struggled to contain the marauding Prutton.
The midfielder was granted a more advanced role in the absence of the injured Kevin Phillips and rewarded Harry Redknapp's decision with the fifth-minute opener. Prutton picked the pocket of the ponderous Pellegrino, exchanged passes with Crouch and beat Jerzy Dudek from an acute angle.
Seventeen minutes later, the favour was returned. Prutton, found by Jamie Redknapp's precise pass, delivered the cross that the unmarked Crouch headed in for his third goal in as many games.
With his team as insipid as their reserves were at Turf Moor, a semi-fit Steven Gerrard struggled to rouse Liverpool; his was their first shot - miscued high over the bar - and the first that drew a save from Antti Niemi.
But, one week after he was upstaged by Roy Keane's midfield masterclass, Gerrard fared badly in comparison with a previous Liverpool captain: Jamie Redknapp, who provided a virtuouso display of passing in a deeper role shielding the other four Southampton midfielders.
Redknapp's defence-splitting ball sent Rory Delap scurrying clear for a wonderful chance to add a third. A tame finish went straight at Dudek, but Southampton, suddenly confident, were able to indulge themselves.
Anders Svensson and Delap combined to evade a series of would-be tacklers and Crouch swivelled to fire a shot at Dudek.
The otherwise unoccupied Niemi had to react quickly to block from Luis Garcia and his defence were busier after Benitez's half-time reshuffle.
Florent Sinama-Pongolle was introduced, but the main threat came from the spirited Milan Baros, who whistled two shots past Niemi's far post and Gerrard, whose thunderbolt of a free kick clipped the bar.
But Claus Lundekvam blocked bravely twice as Saints defendly solidly and, when a Liverpool comeback started to appear plausible, Redknapp brought on a fifth defender, Andreas Jakobsson.
As Liverpool were still troubled by the gangly figure of Crouch, a third Southampton goal seemed more likely. Prutton capped another lung-busting run with a half-volley into the sidenetting and Alan Wiley ignored the home fans' penalty appeals when substitute David Raven bundled Crouch out of the way.
But the two-goal winning margin still made it Saints' biggest Premiership win of the season as well as their most impressive performance; the absence of Nigel Quashie, the £2.1 million signing who was injured before he could make his debut, rendered irrelevant by Prutton and Redknapp.
Fourth from bottom remains their aim, fourth from top Liverpool's. But with Fernando Morientes muted and Luis Garcia utterly unconvincing, it was more Spanish Civil War than 'Rafalution' for them.
|6||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||1|
|3||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||9|
|11||Total Fouls Conceded||14|
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