Reds slump on the coast
Liverpool found precious little festive cheer on the South Coast as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth.
Last Updated: 19/12/09 5:33pm
Liverpool found precious little festive cheer on the South Coast in slumping to a seventh league defeat as Portsmouth were dominant in claiming a 2-0 victory.
Rafa Benitez's side travelled to the Premier League's bottom club on the back of a midweek win but experienced that familiar losing feeling as goals in either half from Nadir Belhadj and Frederic Piquionne did the damage.
A miserable day for Liverpool and Benitez was exacerbated by a red card dished out to Javier Mascherano before half-time for a reckless challenge on Tal Ben Haim. Had Liverpool played with 12, though, they would still have lost.
Portsmouth were aggressive from the onset and while chances were at a premium in the opening period few would begrudge their opener, a stunning angled strike from Belhadj after 33 minutes that whistled past Jose Reina.
Liverpool's search for an equaliser was largely restricted to a deflected Steven Gerrard effort that Asmir Begovic clawed off the line, before Piquionne added a sumptuous second on the volley after the break.
Portsmouth's win means Avram Grant maintains his unbeaten record against Benitez after recording two wins and two draws during his time at Chelsea in the 2008 season.
Back then he ended the Spaniard's Champions League hopes at the semi-final stage - this time he has dented their chances of even qualifying for the competition.
In truth, both sides needed time to find their footing in a game played under tricky conditions. The match was able to go ahead due to the pitch being covered during the week, although there were traces of snow on the shaded areas of the turf meaning passing was sometimes hindered.
Benitez was boosted by the return of Fernando Torres after the Spain striker rested his troublesome groin in the midweek win over Wigan - but he was limited to half-chances.
Torres had a sight of goal early on but Hermann Hreidarsson was back in time - his sliced clearance could have gone anywhere but ended up in Begovic's hands.
Torres then got closer midway through the half after collecting a pass from Andrea Dossena and curling just over the bar, then he was inches from Gerrard's cross.
Dossena's selection was a curious decision, especially with Yossi Benayoun relegated to the bench and Ryan Babel back after an ankle complaint.
And any plans Benitez had of his changes ensuring a simple victory were blown away just after the half-hour mark when Pompey took the lead.
Belhadj started the move himself by nutmegging Emiliano Insua to set up the attack. When the ball was cleared, Kevin-Prince Boateng forced Reina into a save with a powerful volley, former Pompey full-back Glen Johnson cleared the ball only as far as Belhadj and the Algerian lashed in at the near post.
Belhadj has been out of favour under Grant, this was his first game since October and resulted in his first goal of the campaign.
Daniel Agger should have levelled before the break. Gerrard's free-kick found him unmarked but the centre-back headed over from close range.
To make matters worse, then came Mascherano's dismissal. The Argentina midfielder recklessly crashed into Ben Haim, although his feet did not leave the ground. Nevertheless, Mason consulted the fourth official before giving a straight red card.
It was a decision that infuriated Benitez, who had chants of "you're getting sacked in the morning" aimed at him from home fans.
Benitez made his move eight minutes after the break, introducing Benayoun for Dossena to the delight of Liverpool fans.
Michael Brown made himself busy in midfield, winding up his opponents. When Torres snapped and fouled the Pompey skipper it earned the striker a yellow card, then the striker may have been fortunate to stay on the pitch when he led with his arm in a challenge on Ben Haim.
Johnson also earned a booking for tripping Jamie O'Hara when the on-loan Tottenham midfielder robbed him deep in Liverpool territory.
Begovic needed to be at his sharpest to deny Gerrard after the England midfielder's shot struck Brown and Hreidarsson. The Pompey goalkeeper was falling the wrong way but managed to palm the ball away.Piquionne doubled the lead with eight minutes remaining, latching onto Boateng's cross, spinning around Carragher and finishing crisply.
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