Benitez revels in Liverpool fans' protests

Around 2,000 fans gathered outside the nearby Sandon pub and unfurled banners and flags in readiness for a protest march designed to leave Tom Hicks and George Gillett in no doubt where public sympathies lay.

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It was almost like being in the streets round the Mestalla, when news broke of the Madrid-born coach's imminent departure from Valencia, as pro-Benitez slogans, several in perfect Spanish, sent out an unmistakable message.

The prize for greatest ingenuity went to the banner that had a Spanish flag painted on it, along with Benitez's face superimposed on a picture of Che Guevara and a defiant No Pasaran. It translated as 'They Shall Not Pass' and was in close proximity to another that proclaimed En Rafa Confiamos, or 'In Rafa We Trust.'

There were plenty of English creations, too, ranging from God's Gift to Liverpool - Rafa Benitez, to an anti-Hicks barb that read: You're the Custodians. It's Our Club. Rafa Stays.

The backing for Benitez was just as unequivocal inside the ground. The first 'Rafa, Raf-ael' chants began about an hour before kick-off and were filling the night air on all sides by the time he emerged a couple of minutes after the teams.

But, in a gesture that appeared to say: "It's the fans who count, not you", he jabbed a finger towards the directors' box then pointed across the pitch towards the stand opposite.

The official explanation afterwards was that he had been urging the crowd to get behind the team, rather than himself, but it seemed open to interpretation.

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