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AC Milan
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By ESPN Staff

Benitez backs Liverpool's under-fire Pennant

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has given his backing to troubled winger Jermaine Pennant after the £6.7million summer buy was booed by the Kop when he was substituted in last night's 0-0 home draw with Portsmouth.

Pennant has been stuck in a spell of wretched form of late and has still to score for his new club.

His frustrations threatened to boil over as Pompey clawed their way to a precious point with a display of time-wasting and annoying tactics that enraged Pennant, in particular.

He was involved in a running argument with referee Alan Wiley and was eventually booked.

When Pennant was hauled off with six minutes remaining to give youngster Danny Guthrie his league debut and it probably saved him from further trouble.

Afterwards Benitez showed his support - but there was also a thinly-veiled warning for the former Birmingham and Arsenal winger.

Benitez said: 'We told Pennant to be confident, to get in his crosses and to beat defenders.

'He was trying really hard, I was pleased with that. But he must do things in a simple way, get his crosses in and hope the forwards can reach them.

'He was getting in plenty of good crosses but sometimes the forwards were not up in support.

'As long as he keeps trying and working I am happy. But the moment he becomes afraid to try things then he will not improve.'

With Craig Bellamy now free from the shadow of his court case - he was yesterday cleared by a Cardiff court of two assault charges - Benitez may have the option to play the Wales international on the right flank and allow Pennant a rest from the firing line.

But with so many injuries Pennant may well have to soldier on against Wigan on Saturday.

That was not the only problem for Benitez, who saw his injury-hit side struggle to break down a resolute Pompey defence.

Benitez criticised Pompey for their time-wasting, claiming Wiley should have taken stronger action.

'They were time-wasting from the first minute. The referee only put on two minutes in the first half and five in the second but there was a lot more. In the end it is down to the referee to book players.'

But Pompey boss Harry Redknapp hit back saying: 'I wouldn't know what time-wasting was. I would never tell a team of mine to do that.

'In fact I kept shouting at our full-back Noe Pamarot not to take so much time at throws because he would get himself booked. And that is what happened in the end.

'Surely no-one is saying we came to Anfield to time-waste for 90 minutes, that would be ridiculous.'

Liverpool could have moved into the top four with a win but eventually all they managed was to climb above local rivals Everton and Reading.

Redknapp, however, was delighted with the point. 'I have to be happy with that. To get anything at Anfield is a bonus,' he said.

'We defended very well and deserved what we got. I had no option but to play one striker up front because of our injuries.

'Liverpool do it away from home, so do Bolton. It is not something I would do by choice but needs must.'