Thursday, September 24

Benitez insists Cup a top priority

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READING: Rafael Benitez insisted the FA Cup remained a top priority for Liverpool after his side were fortunate to scrape a 1-1 third round draw away to Reading.

Reading, who sit two points and two places above the second-tier Championship relegation zone, threatened an upset when Simon Church gave the hosts a 24th minute lead after Benitez’s side failed to deal with a free-kick.

Steven Gerrard’s hopeful long shot rescued a draw for Liverpool at the Madejski Stadium here on Saturday to set up a replay, currently scheduled to take place at Anfield on January 12.

And Benitez admitted his team must improve if they are to complete the job at the second attempt.

“I’m relieved,” said the under pressure manager. “I think it was difficult.

“I think they (Reading) played really well. To play in front of the TV (cameras) and against Liverpool I think was a massive boost for them and you could see they played really well,” the Spaniard added.

“You could see we were trying to do our best with a really strong team and we will play one again at Anfield for the replay.

“We had two or three situations that could have been better but also they had some chances.

“So credit to them and we are still in the competition,” Benitez said.

Benitez fielded both Gerrard and Fernando Torres in his starting line-up for a competition that, along with the Europa League, has suddenly assumed a greater priority although the manager conceded the burden of a replay will do nothing to boost Liverpool’s hopes of finishing in the top four and claiming a place in next season’s Champions League.

“We know that we have two clear chances to win trophies – the Europa League and the FA Cup – so we will try to our best in both and keep improving in the League,” said Benitez, whose side are four points adrift of English football’s leading quartet.

“I am disappointed (with the result) because we didn’t want to play more games. But it was a tough, tough game so we needed to work hard.”

Benitez admitted he was looking at bringing in players to strengthen his squad during the January transfer window but refused to be drawn on whether he had made a move for Real Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.

“We are not talking about players but I will say that it will be very, very difficult,” he said.

He was equally coy when asked about whether Liverpool were interested in signing Aston Villa forward Emile Heskey.

“I will not talk about names,” Benitez insisted. “This one because it is in all the press here and also in Spain. But we are not trying to bring him so it will be very, very difficult to get him.”

Reading caretaker-manager Brian McDermott is keen to land the job full-time and hopes the Royals’ efforts against Liverpool can bolster his chances.

He is more concerned, though, with picking up points in next weekend’s league clash against Championship leaders Newcastle.

“Points are our priority,” McDermott said. “We play Newcastle next week with another full house. We have to be spot on or we’ll get nothing. The Championship is a tough, tough league.

“We need to play like that every week. The most important thing we’ve lacked is consistency and we have to get back to that.

“People said there was no pressure on us today but there is always pressure. The last thing we want to be is embarrassed in a game of football.” — AFP