Rafael Benitez on Thursday shrugged off the increasing pressure surrounding his position as Liverpool manager in the wake of the club's embarrassing exit from the FA Cup.
Benitez, in charge at Anfield since 2004, was booed along with his players as they were knocked out of the competition after suffering a 2-1 extra-time home defeat at the hands of Championship strugglers Reading on Wednesday. The result is a serious blow to Benitez's hopes of ending Liverpool's four-year wait for a trophy and means the Spaniard must win the second tier European club competition UEFA Europa League if he is to secure the club's first piece of major silverware since the 2006 FA Cup triumph against West Ham United.
"It is really bad. Everyone wanted to progress but we can't so we are disappointed," said 49-year-old Benitez after the third round replay defeat. "Reading worked very hard, but there were a lot of things I did not like. We had chances, they had chances. They were doing well but we might have won too. The chances they created worried me but we had some too.
"In the second half we had more control but after we made a lot of mistakes. We know the FA Cup is a massive competition and we wanted to progress. At this moment we are really disappointed, for the fans who came to support the team. We tried to win from the beginning."
Benitez was already under pressure before this game after the team's UEFA Champions League exit and their faltering Premier League campaign which sees them 12 points behind leaders Chelsea in the title race. But losing to Reading has again put his position back in the spotlight ahead of Saturday's tricky away game at Stoke City.
However, Benitez insists he can handle the criticism. "For three months everyone was talking about me. At the end, as a manager you have to be disappointed but then move forward and think about Stoke on Saturday," he added. "We are frustrated but you have to carry on. Everyone is disappointed. We have to prepare for Saturday's game because it will be difficult."
As if Benitez did not have enough problems, his two best players Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are both major doubts for the weekend. Torres limped off in the first half with a twisted knee while Gerrard has a hamstring problem. Both will undergo scans on Thursday. "We'll see what the doctors say," said Benitez, who completed the signing of Argentine winger Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid earlier on Wednesday.
Reading caretaker manager Brian McDermott insisted his side deserved the victory. "We played some really good stuff," he said. "We did the right thing, played in the right way. Liverpool's goal could have hurt us but we responded well. I'm chuffed for everybody. To come here and win is terrific."
On Wednesday, Liverpool were ahead after an own goal by Ryan Bertrand but were stunned by a stoppage time penalty leveller by Gylfi Sigurdsson which sent the tie into extra time. Substitute Shane Long then headed a 100th minute winner for Reading.