Premier League – Super-sub Torres sends Liverpool top
Liverpool came from behind twice to beat Portsmouth 3-2 at Fratton Park and return to the top of the Premier League.
Fernando Torres – who started the match on the bench – scored the winner after Fabio Aurelio and Dirk Kuyt had cancelled out goals from David Nugent and Hermann Hreidarsson. The result puts the Anfield side one point above defending champions Manchester United, who play the first of their two games in hand at West Ham on Sunday.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez – already dealing with the loss of captain Steven Gerrard through injury – picked a starting line-up that included full-backs Alvaro Arbeloa and Aurelio deployed in midfield roles and 19-year-old striker David N’Gog starting in place of Torres.
Benitez bemoaned the fact that he is powerless to stop Torres – struggling with a hamstring – being picked for Spain in Wednesday’s friendly against England, so he took the next best step towards protecting his star striker by leaving him out of the side.
Even with Torres, Kuyt, Xabi Alonso and Albert Riera watching from the sidelines, Liverpool dominated possession for much of the game, with Aurelio going close with a well-struck free-kick early on and Javier Mascherano seeing a shot from distance saved by David James.
The Reds’ frustration came to a head on the hour mark when Kuyt’s low ball across the six-yard box was completely missed by Ryan Babel with the open goal at his mercy.
Liverpool fans’ worst fears looked like becoming reality moments later when Nugent bagged his third goal in as many league games for Pompey. Peter Crouch‘s through-ball found him unmarked, and the former Preston striker slipped the ball underneath the advancing Pepe Reina to give his side a 62nd-minute lead.
Aurelio levelled less than 10 minutes later from an indirect free-kick inside the Portsmouth box, awarded after James had to handle a terribly misjudged backpass from Peter Crouch.
Alonso rolled the dead-ball to the Brazilian, who blasted into the bottom corner from 12 yards out after Niko Kranjcar strayed from his post.
However, that goal only had the visitors on terms for nine minutes before non-existent marking at a Portsmouth corner saw Hreidarsson steal in to head through the arms of Reina.
Torres had finally appeared from the bench just moments before that goal, and he had a hand in his team’s second goal when he cut a ball back from the byline to Kuyt, and the Dutchman evaded the tackle of Sylvain Distin to blast past James at the near post with five minutes of normal time remaining.
Torres then completed the most extraordinary of comebacks when, two minutes into stoppage time, he rose highest at the near post to head in Yossi Benayoun‘s cross and consign Portsmouth to a fourth straight home defeat.