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Boss concedes it will be hard to raise Reds' spirits

Rafael Benitez admits it will take "a lot of effort" to raise Liverpool's spirits ahead of tomorrow's trip to uncompromising Stoke City.

The Reds are reeling after a humbling loss to Reading in the FA Cup in midweek and a triple injury blow that has ruled out Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun.

Star striker Torres is the worst hit, being told yesterday he faces a six-week lay-off after a scan revealed he needs surgery to repair a torn knee cartilage.

Influential captain Gerrard will be out for a fortnight with a hamstring injury, while playmaker Benayoun has a cracked rib that will keep him on the sidelines for up to four weeks. They join Glen Johnson in the treatment room, with the full-back also out until mid-February with a knee problem.

Liverpool, seventh in the Premier League, must now rouse themselves to get their bid for a top-four place back on track.

But immediately standing in their way are a difficult Potters side, who twice held Liverpool to goalless draws last season. Benitez said: "We have to start again. All I can do is start thinking about the next game.

"We can only carry on and be ready for the next game. All we can say is that we must focus on the next challenge, but I accept that it will be tough to raise spirits.

"But we cannot change the Reading result, we must move forward. We have to think only about the future."

About the only plus point for Benitez as he surveys an injury-ravaged squad low on confidence is that Javier Mascherano has now completed a four-match ban and can return to the side.

New boy Maxi Rodriguez could also be involved as his international clearance should be through by tomorrow.

Liverpool now face two tough games in a week that will shape the rest of their season.

After the Stoke match, they meet Tottenham at home next Wednesday and if they can rediscover some form, they can still cut back the deficit they face in the race for a top-four finish.

Vice-captain Jamie Carragher accepts the trip to Stoke has taken on make-or-break proportions.

He said: "We have got a massive game coming up against Stoke now. It will be very tough, as we played extra time against Reading so and we have got to show enormous character to come back.

"But that's what we have got to do. We have got to move on but, at the same time, we have to say sorry to the fans who came to Anfield against Reading and all those watching on TV."