Liverpool's Benitez defends Crouch X-rated lunge

Benitez insisted Crouch was goaded into retaliating against Mikel John Obi after the England striker was red-carded for a two-footed lunge at the Nigerian midfielder in tonight's Carling Cup quarter-final.

The second-half flash point arrived just seconds after Frank Lampard had put Avram Grant's Chelsea in front in the 59th minute and referee Martin Atkinson wasted no time in dismissing the Liverpool striker for his reckless action.

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Andriy Shevchenko made sure of Chelsea's place in the last four, where they face Everton, with a second goal in the final minute.

But the post-match discussion revolved entirely around Crouch's moment of madness in a quarter-final tie that never really lived up to its billing.

Benitez said: "If you watch the replay where Mikel was trying to kick Crouch, then you blow your whistle and avoid the sending off - the red card. Sometimes the referee must be a little bit quicker.

"Mikel kicked him twice and that was the reason Crouch lost his head. I have seen more dangerous tackles in the last month and sometimes it is a yellow card and sometimes it is nothing. Unbelievable.

"The timing is the key for me. After this decision you finish the game.

"I am disappointed because we have lost. The team has played really well, I am really pleased with their performance.

"I thought we had chances and when we had 11 players, we were playing really well - passing and defending well. Chelsea are still a good team, like they were before."

Chelsea manager Avram Grant said Crouch had no reason to launch his waist-height lunge on Mikel even if the Blues midfielder had been guilty of kicking the Liverpool striker.

Grant said: "Crouch didn't need to do it. I don't think Rafa was angry about the red card, he said something about something that happened before.

"I respect him a lot. He is a very good manager. Maybe he was angry.

"But first it was a bad tackle and second the number of the fouls Liverpool made on Mikel in the first half was about seven or eight.

"The priority is to protect players from bad tackles that can hurt them.

"I didn't see Mikel kick Crouch but even so he didn't need to do what he did.

"This game is a wonderful one. It is one you need to play aggressive and you need to play fast. It is not easy for the referees. If you look at videos of the game five years ago, you think they are in slow motion.

"The game has developed a lot because there are more athletic players. I like the players to play aggressive but I don't like players to hurt others, especially when they don't need to do it.

"The tackle on John Terry against Arsenal on Sunday and on Mikel today - the players did not need to do it."

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