Benitez hails team spirit as Liverpool go top

Benitez hails team spirit as Liverpool go top London  - Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez hailed the strength of character in his side as they twice came from behind to beat Portsmouth 3-2 in injury time to regain top spot in the English Premier League on Saturday.

Fernando Torres came off the substitutes' bench to score the winner two minutes into injury time at Fraton Park and lift Liverpool one point clear of Manchester United, who play at West Ham United on Sunday.

Benitez left Torres, Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera on the bench after their midweek FA Cup defeat by Everton, when they lost in the last minute of injury time after playing almost 45 minutes with 10 men.

Had Liverpool failed to win, Benitez would have been heavily criticized for his team selection, but the Spaniard eventually brought Torres, Alonso and Kuyt off the bench, with the perfect result.

"I had confidence because the team was showing great character - they decided to win," Benitez said.

"The team's mentality is very good and confidence is high, and these things will be very important for the rest of the season.

"We knew it could be difficult to stay at the top for a long time but we are there. If we are in this position in the last month, we'll be able to fight for the title.

"Every win is crucial. We have to win almost every game. We have won and we're trying to put pressure on (United), but they also have experience and they know that they also have to win almost every game."

In the absence of their stars - as well as captain Steven Gerrard, who is out for three weeks with a hamstring injury - Benitez started with David Ngog in attack, while Ryan Babel played and Fabio Aurelio played out of position in central midfield.

"Torres, Kuyt and Alonso were really tired," Benitez said. "I talked with the medical and technical staff and made the decision.

"It is not a gamble when you know they are tired. If you ask the players, all of them will say they are fit, but you have to decide based on all the information." (dpa)