Benitez still backs strikers

Rafael Benitez will keep faith with Liverpool's misfiring strikers despite another poor showing that saw them knocked out of the Carling Cup by Championship club Crystal Palace.

Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez will keep faith with Liverpool's misfiring strikers despite another poor showing that saw them knocked out of the Carling Cup by Championship club Crystal Palace.

Palace triumphed 2-1 last night thanks to goals from Dougie Freedman and Marco Reich - either side of a Steven Gerrard strike for the European champions - but Liverpool were wasteful in front of goal once again.

Fernando Morientes was the principal culprit, missing two excellent opportunities but Harry Kewell and Peter Crouch both looked short of confidence - even though Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni had a fine match.

Anfield boss Benitez said: "The strikers will score goals because they have quality and they are working hard.

"Harry Kewell and Fernando Morientes are lacking match fitness, which will come with playing games."

Morientes had already been denied by the legs of Speroni when Palace took the lead after 37 minutes.

After Kewell had lost possession, Freedman was able to play the ball left to Michael Hughes and arrive in the penalty area in time to head the Northern Ireland international's fine cross past second-choice keeper Scott Carson.

Gerrard's equaliser three minutes later owed much to fortune - Palace defender Mark Hudson cut out an attempted through-ball from the England midfielder but inadvertently returned the ball to him - although his finish from 20 yards into Speroni's bottom-left corner was superb.

Hudson made up for that incident to deny Morientes early in the second half after the Spain international had turned inside Gary Borrowdale and was preparing to shoot.

But that was one of the few bright spots of a poor Liverpool second-half display, and Palace deserved their second goal, Reich volleying the impressive Hughes' astute chip past Carson with 25 minutes to play.

Palace could have won more convincingly had Reich been more accurate with two opportunities later in the game, but their manager Iain Dowie was delighted with the German winger's contribution.

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