Benitez expects win to kick-start Liverpool's season
LIVERPOOL: Rafa Benitez expects 10-man Liverpool's battling 1-0 win over Merseyside rivals Everton to prove a defining moment in their bid to land a Champions League place.
After a dismal run in the first half of the campaign threatened to wreck Liverpool's hopes of securing a top four finish, Benitez's team are now unbeaten in seven league matches and back in the hunt for a European spot.
For much of the season, Benitez has been forced to find excuses for Liverpool's failings and at times he has looked in danger of losing his job.
But the spirit in Liverpool's dressing room remains strong judging by the way they recovered from Sotirios Kyrgiakoss' first half dismissal to beat Everton thanks to Dirk Kuyt's second half header at Anfield.
The game will be remembered as a bad tempered affair, Liverpool forced to play with 10 men for almost an hour after Greek defender Kyrgiakos was sent off for a two-footed challenge on Marouane Fellaini.
Fellaini was fortunate not to be red-carded in the same incident after appearing to stamp on Kyrgiakos while Steven Pienaar, who was later dismissed in stoppage time after his second yellow card, escaped after a poor challenge on Javier Mascherano as tempers boiled over at Anfield.
But Benitez could afford to take a cool view of Kyrgiakos's dismissal and he believes his side can kick-on after such a "massive' result".
"It's always important to win a derby, but to win a derby with 10 players at Anfield is even more important," Benitez said. "We did well from the very start and my players worked so hard.
"It's a credit to us that Everton didn't put us under much pressure in the second half because we played so well.
"Hopefully, we can now stay in and round fourth spot. There's still a lot of games to go and it's a long race."
As Benitez savoured his team's gutsy effort, Everton manager David Moyes insisted his side did not deserve to lose the 213th Merseyside derby.
Moyes insisted both Kyrgiakos and Pienaar both deserved to be sent off by referee Martin Atkinson. But the Scot said Everton did enough to stretch their unbeaten Premier League run to 10 games.
Instead they entertain title-chasing Chelsea on Wednesday looking to avoid back-to-back defeats after Kuyt's winner cemented Liverpool's fifth straight home league win.
"There have been a lot of derbies quite similar to what we have seen here," Moyes said.
"Merseyside derbies are not run of the mill games, sometimes there is a bit extra and I think we saw that.
"What did I think about Kyrgiakos's red card? It was a two-footed tackle, both feet were off the ground. Fellaini's gone to have an x-ray.
"I didn't see the incident surrounding Pienaar's sending off at the time. I've seen it since on the tape and he can't have much argument about it.
"We certainly didn't deserve to lose. We might not have done enough to win it but we didn't deserve to lose it."
Liverpool have now secured a Premier League double over Everton in three of the last five seasons.
Benitez, like his counterpart, refused to get embroiled in any controversy afterwards.
"I think there were too many tackles to analyse and I prefer not to comment on the referee," he said.
"You can talk about 20 different tackles and have different opinions. To keep everyone calm in a derby is almost impossible. Sometimes it's difficult to play with your heads and your hearts."