Torres breaks Pompey hearts
Liverpool hero (Gallo Images)
Portsmouth - Fernando Torres came off the bench to score a priceless stoppage time winner as Liverpool came from behind twice to beat Portsmouth 3-2 at Fratton Park on Saturday.
Reds manager Rafael Benitez's decision to omit Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Xabi Alonso from an under-strength starting line-up looked to have cost Liverpool dearly as his side were trailing 2-1 until six minutes from time.
But Kuyt levelled with a sublime 85th minute shot before Torres headed in Yossi Benayoun's 91st minute cross to send Benitez's men top of the Premier League table, although champions Manchester United can replace them with a draw at West Ham on Sunday.
Liverpool were already weakened by the absence of injured captain Steven Gerrard and Portsmouth could have taken the lead as early as the sixth minute when David Nugent carved a good opportunity for Peter Crouch.
Nugent turned Jamie Carragher on the edge of the six-yard box before rolling the ball neatly into his strike partner's path but Crouch passed up the chance to score against his former club, scuffing a weak right foot shot straight into the arms of a relieved Jose Reina.
Liverpool were unlucky not to go in front in the 11th minute when Fabio Aurelio beat goalkeeper David James with a curling 25-yard free kick, which brushed against the outside of the right hand post before going behind for a goal kick.
Javier Mascherano is not renowned for his goal scoring but it needed a superb fingertip save from James mid-way through the first half to turn the Argentine's fierce 20-yard drive wide.
Dutch forward Kuyt was called from the bench with the second half just 11 minutes old to replace the ineffective David Ngog and set up Ryan Babel for what should have been the opening goal within seconds of coming on.
Kuyt collected Benayoun's pass before bursting into the 18-yard box and whipping in a teasing low cross to leave Babel with an empty net and only the Dutch international will know how he contrived to miss his kick and let the ball sail harmlessly away for a Portsmouth throw-in.
Babel and Benitez were made to pay in the 62nd minute when Nugent gave Portsmouth a surprise lead.
Nugent, a fan of Liverpool's local rivals Everton, got in behind a static Reds defence to latch onto Crouch's threaded through ball before calmly rolling a right shot through the legs of the onrushing Reina and into the centre of the net.
Liverpool were behind for just seven minutes before being gifted an equaliser by a mistake from Anfield old boy James.
James inexplicably blocked Crouch's back pass with his arm, leaving referee Howard Webb with no alternative bit to award a free kick 12 yards out.
Substitute Alonso teed the ball up for Aurelio to blast a right shot through Portsmouth's ten-man wall and into the bottom right corner.
Torres was finally brought on for the final 14 minutes in place of the hapless Babel as Liverpool pushed forward in search of a much needed winner.
But Portsmouth clearly had other ideas and retook the lead when Herman Hreidarsson rose above Mascherano to head Nadir Belhadj's free kick past a despairing Reina as Benitez's commitment to zonal marking cost his side dear once more.
Kuyt drew Liverpool level for a second time with a splendid strike.
Torres cut the ball back from the byline after home defender Sylvain Distin had made a mess of his attempted clearance and Kuyt brought the ball onto his right before lashing it into the roof of the net from the tightest of angles.
Just as Liverpool's 3 000 travelling fans were contemplating two points dropped, Torres popped up to expertly steer Benayoun's left wing centre past James at his near post in stoppage time.