LIVERPOOL, December 17 – Rafael Benitez has challenged his Liverpool players to use victory over Wigan as a springboard for a winning run that will catapult the club into the Premier League's top four.Fernando Torres marked his 100th appearance for the Reds with the decisive goal as Benitez’s side defeated Wigan 2-1 on Wednesday to move up into sixth spot in the table.
Liverpool remain five points behind Aston Villa who lie fourth, the minimum target Benitez has set his players.
They face bottom club Portsmouth away on Saturday before entertaining struggling Wolves at Anfield on December 26 and Villa three days later.
And Benitez wants his players to use their first victory in four games to spark a winning run after a stuttering season which has seen the club fail to advance past the group stages of the Champions League.
"It was an important win for us," said a relieved Benitez. "We had chances to score some more goals, but the three points were the key. We needed to get the three points, relax and get ready for the next game against Portsmouth.
"The main thing for us is to win games in a row. If we beat Portsmouth then we can talk about the possibility of three games in a row."
Substitute Torres marked his century of appearances since joining from Atletico Madrid in July 2007 with his 61st goal for the club.
Liverpool were leading 1-0 thanks to David Ngog’s goal before Torres came on and doubled the lead. Charles N’Zogbia reduced the deficit in stoppage time as Liverpool put their fans through more anxious moments on a night when the club paid tribute to legendary manager Bill Shankly.
It is 50 years since Shankly took charge and led the club to bigger and greater things during his 15 years in charge.
Benitez insisted he welcomed the pressure which came with managing a club of Liverpool’s stature and history.
"Everyone knows how important Bill Shankly is for the club and to see the former players here was a great positive," added the Spaniard.
"Does it bring pressure knowing what he did? This is one of the top clubs in the world and I prefer this than managing a team near relegation.
"Maybe Torres can play against Portsmouth. He has been one month without training and was really tired after the Arsenal game the other day.
"But David Ngog is a very good option for us because when Fernando is tired we can play him."
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez bemoaned a miss by Jason Scotland miss as the turning point of the contest.
The striker spurned a great chance to equalised when he hit the bar from close range before Torres doubled Liverpool’s lead.
"The key moment was when Jason Scotland hit the cross-bar," said Martinez. "That would have gone on to be a completely different game.
"You could see a little bit of anxiety around the ground and we felt we were going to finish the game strong so overall we are disappointed we couldn’t get anything out of the performance."
Martinez was critical about the quality of the goals his team had conceded but at least could claw back some positives from the display, even though Wigan are now just two points above the relegation zone.
"I have a little bit of mixed feelings because the first goal was very, very soft and when you come to places like Anfield, you are going to make life very, very difficult if you do that," he added.
"But after that, I was pleased with the reaction we showed, the bravery we showed on the ball, and slowly we created a few chances.
"We gave them too much respect in spells and our concentration wasn’t what it had to be but we came to a difficult place and showed great bravery which will allow us to be competitive in every game and which we need to eradicate the inconsistency we have shown this season."