Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jermaine Pennant Joins Portsmouth On Loan And Vows To Save Tony Adams' Side

Jermaine Pennant has vowed to repay Tony Adams for offering him an escape from his Liverpool nightmare - by leading Portsmouth to survival.

Pennant, 26, last night agreed a loan move to Pompey until the end of the season after being made to feel like the forgotten man of Anfield.

The winger has made just two Premier League starts all season but has swapped a title challenge with Liverpool for a club just three points above the relegation zone.

Pennant said: "It is great to have signed, I love playing football.

"I have not played for so long you almost forget how great it is. Tony was very keen on me coming and it is important the manager wants you. He has worked very hard to get me here and that is why he succeeded.

"I just want to play the best I can, win games for Portsmouth and get them into the top half of the table."

Adams has monitored Pennant's career since he arrived at Arsenal as a 15-year-old in 1999 for a record £2million fee for a trainee. Since then Pennant has struggled with the trappings of fame, culminating in a 30-day stretch in prison in 2005 for a drink-driving conviction.

Adams, who visited Pennant during his time inside, said: "He has had a few different experiences through his career but haven't we all?

"He has grown a little bit wiser with age.

"He has appeared in a Champions League final - that is something I never achieved in my career."

We Are Determined To Put Things Right In Cup - Kuyt

Dirk Kuyt revealed the determination among Liverpool’s squad to “put things right” after their derby disappointment on Monday.

Everton put a significant dent in the title hopes of their neighbours by snatching a 1-1 draw at Anfield.

After leading the table for more than a month, Rafael Benitez’s side are now second behind leaders Manchester United on goal difference having played a game more.

Liverpool entertain Mersey rivals Everton again on Sunday in their FA Cup fourth round tie, and Kuyt said: “We wanted to beat them and thought we could win, but now we want put things right on Sunday. We will learn from the mistakes we made against them, and we will be ready for them in the cup game.

“We are very disappointed at the moment. We controlled the game, had some good chances and scored a great goal through Stevie, so it’s difficult to accept this kind of result when you concede so late in the game.

“I think we deserved to win. But we have to keep going and keep looking forward. We dropped two points but now we just have to look towards the next game.”

Fabio Aurelio joined his team-mate in admitting Liverpool must cut out the errors if they are to make amends in the FA Cup tie on Sunday.

“It was a tough game and both sides were fighting for everything,” said the Brazilian. “I don’t think it was a very good game in terms of the football that was played, but both teams put all of their effort into it.

“We know that they have been scoring a lot of goals from set-pieces. There is nothing we can do to change it now so all we can do is focus on our next game which is again against Everton.

“But we have to learn from our mistakes – that is always important, especially when you have conceded a late goal.

“It is always difficult to defend those types of free-kicks, particularly when the opposition has a very good taker and good headers of the ball. But I think we can improve.”

Aurelio paid tribute to Steven Gerrard, who marked his 250th game as Liverpool skipper with a trademark strike from 25 yards to give Liverpool a 68th-minute lead that was equalised by Tim Cahill.

“It was a fantastic goal by Steven,” said Aurelio. “Everyone knows what he is capable of when he gets the ball in these positions and it was a really good strike. I thought it could have been enough to win the game, but unfortunately it did not turn out that way.”

Title rivals United have won eight of their last 10 Premier League games without conceding a goal and dropping just four points from 30. During the same period, Liverpool have won just four times and taken only 18 points compared to United’s 26.

Four of those games have been home draws, with the Everton stalemate following those against Fulham, West Ham United and Hull City. But winger Albert Riera said: “We’ve dropped a lot of points at home this season through draws, but this wasn’t like the other times. In the other games, the teams were mainly here to defend and we simply couldn’t break them down.

“But against Everton we got the goal, and we could have even scored in the first half when Fernando hit the post.

“I’m surprised we conceded a goal, especially from a free-kick because I think that’s only the third goal we’ve conceded from a free-kick in more than half a season.

“It wasn’t like the Fulham or West Ham games. We created chances on Monday, and we don’t feel disappointed in the same way we did after those games.”

Benitez added: “We have to be positive. This is a good position. But we are disappointed because we are losing some home points we could win.

“But in England you say the bottle is half-full or half-empty. We feel it is half-full.”

Albert Riera: We’ll Keep Pushing United

Albert Riera believes that Manchester United are now enjoying the rub of the green in the championship race.

Liverpool were prevented from returning to the top of the table when held to a 1-1 draw by Everton in Monday night’s Merseyside derby.

Despite taking the lead through a well-taken Steven Gerrard strike, Rafael Benitez’s side suffered the late blow of Tim Cahill’s 87th-minute equaliser.

United had moved to the summit when Dimitar Berbatov scored a last-minute winner at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

And while insisting Liverpool are “not finished yet” in the scrap for the title, winger Riera reckons the fates are with their Old Trafford rivals at present.

“For Liverpool, a draw is always disappointing,” said the former Espanyol man. “But we have to keep going. There are a lot of games to go before the end of the season, and we just have to continue the way we’ve been doing for most of the season.

“We were really confident with the 1-0 lead, and we haven’t been conceding goals from that position. I thought we defended well and were creating some opportunities, but Everton had a bit of luck at the end.

“I don’t like to talk too much in football about teams being lucky, but at the moment Manchester United are scoring goals in the last minutes and we have now conceded a late goal.

“At least we’re still on the same points as United and you can be sure we are going to keep on fighting with them.

“We’ve got a winning mentality in the dressing room, so to get a draw against Everton isn’t the best result as we want to win every match.”

Earlier in the season, Liverpool were accused of enjoying more than their fair share of fortune with a succession of late goals to win games.

However, Monday’s draw was only the second time this season in which Benitez’s side have surrendered league points after scoring first, the other being November’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur.

And Riera says Liverpool should take the positives out of a difficult game against tough opponents.

“You can look at the game against Everton and say we either gained one point or we lost two points,” he added. “We have to be positive because it’s only January, there’s still a long way to go. We have to look at it at a point gained, because it’s never an easy game against Everton.

“We’ve got a lot of our direct rivals like United to play again, and we just have to keep on going. From Wednesday we’ll start preparing again for the next game.

“I thought Everton played well and they knew how we would play. When you are 1-0 up, you don’t always have to go for the second goal. Keeping possession was the thing we had foremost in mind, but Everton kept at it and got their goal.”

Riera and Liverpool will now turn their attentions to the second installment of their derby double header, with Everton back at Anfield on Sunday for their FA Cup fourth round showdown.

And he said: “Sunday’s game will be just as important. It’s a derby, and that’s always massive. It will be close.

“It’s not the Premier League, but we expect it to be another similar type of game. We want to win because we want to win the FA Cup.”

Rafael Benitez Risking Liverpool's Title Goal

Pivotal moments in Liverpool's season are coming thick and fast, with the game against Chelsea at Anfield on Feb 1 looking increasingly significant on and off the pitch.

While the clash with Luiz Felipe Scolari's team will give a further clue as to Liverpool's resilience, it is also likely to see further developments in the ongoing boardroom civil war, with co-owner Tom Hicks due to attend the game. Ostensibly he will be in town to help finalise Rafael Benitez's disputed contract, but his visit will also give a clue as to the balance of power in the uneasy relationship between Hicks and co-owner George Gillett.

The Americans, whose exploits provide an object lesson in the limitations of 50-50 ownership, had been due to meet in the United States on Sunday to discuss club matters but that appointment was cancelled.

Meanwhile, City sources have indicated that both men continue to search for investors to ease their personal exposure to the £350 million refinancing deal agreed with RBS last year.

RBS have agreed to extend that loan to the end of June, but Gillett is under pressure to refinance an additional £40m he borrowed to provide a personal guarantee that was a condition of the deal. He is understood to be paying interest at 19 per cent on the loan, which is due to expire on Sunday. However, the wider question as to Liverpool's ownership going forward, remains. Hicks continues to retain Merrill Lynch, who are searching for investors willing to bolster his control of the club.

None of this would matter to supporters if Benitez was unaffected and able to insulate his team from the boardroom tensions, but instead of rising above the intrigue, he is a key player.

Last weekend he chose publicly to reject his contract offer, citing the role of chief executive Rick Parry as a stumbling block, and singled out Hicks for praise while failing to mention Gillett.

His ultimate motivation may be to secure more control over club business, and his timing is in keeping with his habit of exploiting what he perceives as moments of strength to secure maximum advantage.

The danger for Liverpool's chances of winning their first title since 1990 is that not only is he a willing participant in the intrigue, but that he has chosen sides.

No Excuse As Robbie Keane Goes Missing In Action

Derby day on Merseyside is an unforgiving arena – an occasion when a reputation can be made, or broken.

Just ask Glenn Keeley, Bjorn Tore Kvarme and Sandy Brown – the victims of this historic event – or David Fairclough, Graeme Sharp and Ian Rush – heroes who still dine out today on their derby exploits.

Last night added a couple more names to its roster of villains and victors.

Leighton Baines produced his most accomplished display in a Royal Blue jersey to date, while to say Robbie Keane went missing in action would be to suggest that he was actually involved in some form of meaningful activity during the 66 minutes he toiled.

The £20m man is fast running out of excuses for his below par performances. Last night he was given the perfect platform – Torres ahead of him, Gerrard behind, the 4-4-2 formation he craves.

He flopped. Again.

His threat was snuffed out utterly by the excellent Jagielka and Lescott, but neither of that colossal duo were even Everton’s best performers.

Baines has waited almost 18 months for a consistent run of appearances.

If he starts on Sunday – and after last night’s monumental display only injury or David Moyes taking leave of his senses can see him left out – it will be the first time in his Everton career that he has put together six successive starts.

He’ll have to go some to top last night’s performance.

The popular thinking around Baines’ many absences from the Blues first team is that his lack of inches leads to a fear of Everton getting caught out at their far post.

So it was heartening that his two best moments came in that very area of the pitch – a truly heroic block to thwart Dirk Kuyt and another to prevent Sami Hyypia becoming an unlikely match winner.

But while the ability to make and break reputations was a familiar characteristic of last night’s derby – so much else was different.

For a start, we witnessed plenty of football.

Everton were excellent in the first 45 minutes, when Liverpool’s returning big guns looked ring rusty. Then, after the break Liverpool enjoyed a stirring 20-minute spell, capped by a classic Steven Gerrard strike.

The fans largely responded to the police appeal for respectful chanting – “Rafa’s cracking up!” fell on the tolerable side of the divide – and the punches swung in the Lower Centenary and the half-wit who tossed insults at Bill Kenwright on the final whistle were isolated incidents.

In many respects it was a derby to enjoy – and it hasn’t been often we’ve been able to say that in recent years. And the credit for that has to be given to the players who shaped it.

The derby matches of the 1980s were so compelling because we were watching the best two teams in the country.

Last night was the closest we’ve come to achieving that parity. Liverpool have led the league table for long chunks of the campaign, but Everton did not look out of place.

They had no record signing, no top scorer, no back-up strikers to call on – and precious little experience on their subs bench. But they produced a performance full of vim and vigour.

Tim Howard produced a wonderfully telling phrase to describe team-mate Tim Cahill last season – “he’s like a particularly annoying gnat,” he drawled.

Last night Cahill buzzed, flitted and tormented the Reds rearguard before he eventually stung them. Goals on three successive appearances at Anfield is a reputation-making achievement.

Which brings us back to derby day making or breaking reputations.

The fact that so many men in Blue enhanced theirs will underline who was happier about last night’s result. Across the park, fewer players will be satisfied with their performance.

Torres did all that could be expected of a player making his first start for two months – short of steering a 27th minute shot inside the post rather than against it – while Gerrard’s 67th minute strike was worthy of winning a derby.

That it didn’t was a fair reflection on the night.

Whether the draw has changed the dynamics of Sunday’s repeat performance we’ll have to wait and see. Rafa Benitez will undoubtedly change his starting line-up – perhaps with justification – David Moyes will be unable to.

But it is Rafa’s men who will have to raise their game if they’re not to endure further frustration.

Benitez Rues Home Form

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has admitted he is growing disappointed with the amount of points his side are losing at home.

The Reds dropped two more points at Anfield to Everton on Monday as they failed to return to the top of the table.

Benitez's side have dropped 10 points at home this season, drawing to the likes of Stoke, Fulham, West Ham and Hull.

In comparison title rivals Manchester United have dropped just two points at Old Trafford, the draw coming on the opening day against Newcastle, from 10 home games, winning the rest.

The derby-day draw saw the Reds go level on points with United, with the champions having played a game less, but Benitez is remaining positive.

"We are disappointed and frustrated at the amount of points we have dropped at home this season," he said.

"Generally this season we are much better in terms of points won, and especially away from home we are very strong.

"But at home we are facing games that will eventually be a massive difference for us. I have tried to be positive with the players.

"I told them that back in August when we started, everyone was asking where we would be come January.

"And now we find ourselves level on points with Manchester United at the top of the table now that January is here.

"We have to be positive. This is a good position. But we are disappointed because we are losing some home points we could win.

"But in England you say the bottle is half-full or half-empty. We feel it is half-full."

The two Merseyside clubs are set for round two on Sunday in the FA Cup fourth round, again at Anfield, and Benitez has confirmed he will make changes.

"We may have to play with different players for the cup tie on Sunday," he stated.

"Afterwards we have two important games the following week at Wigan and then at home to Chelsea.

"We have players coming back from injury and it is important that they get the chance to play matches like the cup tie.

"We have had the likes of Martin Skrtel, Fernando Torres and Alvaro Arbeloa all returning from injuries and they are all much closer to their best now."