Benitez passes buck in row with Bruce over Jones loan

LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez has rejected criticism from Sunderland manager Steve Bruce and focused his attention on reclaiming a place in the top four tonight.

Bruce hit out at Benitez over their pursuit of Black Cats striker Kenwyne Jones last week, calling the Anfield club’s conduct “hugely disrespectful”.

But the Spaniard yesterday insisted he had done nothing wrong and, with captain Steven Gerrard in contention to return to the squad this evening, set his sights on extending a four-match unbeaten run at Wolves.

“I was not dealing with this,” said Benitez of negotiations over Jones. “[Liverpool managing director] Christian Purslow has been talking with [Sunderland chairman] Niall Quinn so they have to manage the situation because I was not doing anything. I prefer not to talk too much because we will create a debate so Christian and Niall will continue to talk if they need to talk. They were in contact but I don’t know what the situation is now.”

Bruce became riled at reports that Trinidad and Tobago star Jones would move to Liverpool on loan until the end of the season, lambasting what he called the “constant badgering” of a player he was not looking to offload. Benitez is believed to be in the market for a forward, with top scorer Fernando Torres sidelined until next month, and was coy on talk of signing Standard Liege’s Milan Jovanovic for free in the summer.

“When they talk about us the radar is very big with 100 players all around the world,” he said. “They are names but we don’t talk about players. All I can tell you is he [Jovanovic] is a good player.”

Of more immediate concern, however, is the possibility to move back into the Premier League’s top four tonight at Molineux, contingent on results elsewhere. The likelihood that Gerrard, so often Liverpool’s inspiration, will be fit following a hamstring problem is a major boost.

“Gerrard has had [injury] problems but it is good for us the captain is coming back,” added Benitez. “It is important – he can change games.”