Benitez unimpressed with ref

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Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez accepts his side must "improve" if they are to mount a sustained title challenge after losing their opening game of the new Barclays Premier League campaign.

But he was left less than impressed by referee Phil Dowd and fourth official Stuart Attwell at White Hart Lane as the Reds stumbled to a 2-1 loss.

"Clearly we have to improve if we want to win these types of games," he said. "The understanding has to be better. But it is too early, and we have another game on Wednesday [against Stoke] when clearly we have to improve in the possession."

The Reds, last season's runners-up, struggled to get going in the heat on Sunday afternoon and were fortunate to go into the break only 1-0 down following a stunning 25-yard strike from full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

Captain Steven Gerrard equalised after 54 minutes from the penalty spot, after £17million summer signing Glen Johnson had been upended by Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. However, the visitors failed to stay on level terms for long as Sebastien Bassong, on his Spurs debut following an £8million switch from Newcastle, headed in what proved to be the winner.

Benitez, though, was more than a touch irritated when referee Dowd did not point to the spot after substitute Andriy Voronin appeared to be blocked by Assou-Ekotto, and also when further appeals for a handball against the same defender during the closing stages were dismissed.

Assistant manager Sammy Lee was eventually sent from the dugout for taking his protests too far. Lee was particularly vocal towards Attwell, understood to have asked the fourth official to restore order in the Spurs technical area.

"Everybody could see there was a penalty against Voronin. It was so clear, it is unbelievable," said Benitez. "With this referee, I knew this (another penalty) was impossible."

Asked for his overall assessment of Dowd, Benitez went to his pocket and pulled out a pair of glasses.

The Liverpool manager added: "We had a meeting the other day, and they said we cannot talk about the referee as a person or the decisions, but I think everybody here could see the situation."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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Tottenham Hotspur
Stoke City
Glen Johnson
Benoit Assou-Ekotto
Premier League
Heurelho Gomes
Steven Gerrard
Sebastien Bassong

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