rafa insists fa cup is a priority

ENGLAND - Rafael Benitez insisted that the FA Cup remained a top priority for Liverpool after his side were fortunate to scrape a 1-1 third round draw away to Reading.

Reading, who sit two points and two places above the second-tier Championship relegation zone, threatened an upset when Simon Church gave the hosts a 24th minute lead after Benitez's side failed to deal with a free-kick.

Steven Gerrard's hopeful long shot rescued a draw for Liverpool at the Madejski Stadium here on Saturday to set up a replay, currently scheduled to take place at Anfield on January 12.

And Benitez admitted his team must improve if they are to complete the job at the second attempt.

"I'm relieved," said the under pressure manager. "I think it was difficult. I think they (Reading) played really well. To play in front of the TV (cameras) and against Liverpool I think was a massive boost for them .," the Spaniard added.

Benitez fielded both Gerrard and Fernando Torres in his starting line-up for a competition that, along with the Europa League, has suddenly assumed a greater priority.

The manager conceded that the burden of a replay will do nothing to boost Liverpool's hopes of finishing in the top four and claiming a place in next season's Champions League.

Benitez's side are four points adrift of English football's leading quartet.

Benitez admitted that he is looking at strengthening his squad during the January transfer window but refused to be drawn on whether he had made a move for Real Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.

He was equally coy when asked about whether Liverpool were interested in signing Aston Villa forward Emile Heskey. "I will not talk about names," Benitez insisted.

Reading caretaker-manager Brian McDermott is keen to land the job full-time and hopes the Royals' efforts against Liverpool can bolster his chances.

He is more concerned, though, with picking up points in next weekend's league clash against Championship leaders Newcastle.

"People said there was no pressure on us today but there is always pressure. The last thing we want to be is embarrassed in a game of football," McDermott said.

" A side like Liverpool can embarrass you if you are not careful," he said. A replay was the least we deserved." - AFP