New Delhi: Liverpool are back atop the Premier League pile, but they made a meal of their Fratton Park visit. Nugent and Hreidarsson twice gave Portsmouth the lead, but Aurelio, Kuyt and, crucially, Torres, conspired to win it for the Reds
Due to the midweek loss of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, Reds manager Rafa Benitez opted to really shake things up for his side, fronting a 3-5-2 formation the likes of which no one would have expected. Fernando Torres would only start on the bench, sitting alongside Xabi Alonso as the irregular starting XI looked to seal a win for the visitors.
Jermaine Pennant, on loan to Portsmouth from Liverpool, was not
eligible for this game, but Pompey manager Tony Adams welcomed the visitors with a familiar face in ex-Reds striker, Peter Crouch.
David Nugent, a proud Evertonian at heart, was the first to test Liverpool's defence. His shot stung the palms of Spanish 'keeper Pepe Reina, but the Liverpool stopper never looked to be under any real threat. Peter Crouch was quick to follow up the previous attack as Nugent popped up again inside the box to play through the lanky Englishman. Crouch had a poor first touch as the ball skittered along the six-yard line and into the arms of Reina.
It was far from one-way traffic, however, as Liverpool's line-up, one that had only managed eight goals between them all season, made sure David James was not allowed to relax. Yossi Benayoun made his presence known early as he tried to cash in on a ball played from the right flank by Alvaro Arbeloa. The Isreali took the shot first time but would only find the outside netting.
Pompey midfielder Sean Davis brought down Benayoun on the edge of the area to give the visitors a legitimate chance to put themselves in the lead. Fabio Aurelio stepped up and produced a terric bending drive that grazed the upright and pinged out of play.
As the half-hour mark approached, Liverpool started to dictate the play from midfield, working the home side under. Daniel Agger tried his luck from the edge of the area, but his attempt was deflected out of play and out of Portsmouth's danger-zone.
Pompey debutant Angelos Basinas made good use of himself in midfield, letting people know that he's not too shy to take possession and look for killer passes. The Greek international shrugged off a knock from Daniel Agger and put himself behind a dead-ball just outside of Liverpool's box. The midfielder's shot was on target, but Reina was there to pick the ball out of the air.
As half-time approached, Nugent found his strike partner Peter Crouch just outside the danger area. Crouchie controlled the ball well but his attempt soared over the bar and into the stands.
The Reds started the second half in lively fashion, forcing two corners from the home side in as many minutes. The visitors still seemed to be lacking the creative finishing that could have been supplied by Fernando Torres, who was still warming the bench.
French youngster David Ngog made way for Dirk Kuyt as the half commenced, Benitez clearly looking to add a cutting edge to what looked like a fairly blunt team. Kuyt imposed himself on the game almost instantly, playing in Ryan Babel at the back post, but the striker failed to connect with the ball, missing an open net and leaving his head in his hands.
Minutes after Babel's disappointing miss, Portsmouth broke the deadlock. The tall figure of Crouch played in Nugent with a wonderful reverse pass, allowing the Everton fan to drill the ball under Reina and into the back of the net. The hosts went 1-0 up.
Benitez looked to respond to the goal by adding Xabi Alonso to the mix, and it wasn't long after his arrival on the pitch that the response came to fruition. A suicidal back pass from Peter Crouch was almost intercepted by Dirk Kuyt, the English 'keeper forced to use his hands to clear the danger. Referee Howard Webb saw this as a foul back pass and awarded the visitors an indirect free-kick, inside the Pompey box. The ball was rolled into the path of a driving Fabio Aurelio, who capitalised on his chance, sending the ball low and hard into the bottom corner of the net.
Rafa's decisions had put the visitors back in the game, but he would look to none other than Torres, as the young Spaniard replaced Ryan Babel in the quest for three points and the top spot in the league.
Hermann Hreidarsson silenced the Liverpool fans soon after Torres' entrance, connecting with Nadir Belhadj's free kick and nodding the ball past Pepe Reina from close range. Pompey took the lead once more.
Ten minutes after the goal that put the hosts in the lead again, Silvain Distin made a catastrophic error in his own box, failing to clear an easy ball and rolling it into the path of Torres. The Spanish international picked out Kuyt on the byline who belted the ball at goal, the ball only stopping on the inside of the front post as the scoreline became equal again.
The action wouldn't subside as the game drew to a close. Benayoun found space wide on the left and whipped a cross into the middle of Portsmouth's box. Who else would pop up and connect with the ball other than Liverpool's goldenboy, Fernando Torres? The last of three added minutes saw 'El Nino' nod the ball home and put the Reds in the lead, and at the top of the league.
Benitez's seemingly crazy gamble paid off for Liverpool, beating Pompey 3-2, but it would by no means be a bad loss for struggling manager Tony Adams, who would certainly go into the dressing room with a list of positives to pass on to his squad.
Portsmouth 2 - 3 Liverpool